Thursday, August 30, 2007

War and Peace

Grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair. This review is going to be long, but not as long as the approximately 1,600 page book.

One of my professors from UW often said that Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace to explain the Decembrist Revolution of 1825 (not the band, but the event the band named itself for). Therefore, before I begin to discuss the book, I'm going to start with a history lesson (Yay!). All historical information and any further information you would like can be found in A History of Russia by Nicholas V. Riasanovsky (a classic).

Unlike many history lessons, this one will go backwards, for reasons that will be evident later. In December 1825 Tsar Alexander I died, leaving no legitimate heirs. It appeared to most of Russia (meaning those who were educated) that his younger brother, Constantine, would be declared Tsar. However, he had previously married a Polish aristocrat and renounced his rights to the throne. This was not widely known. It also meant that the youngest brother, Nicholas I, was declared Tsar in his place. When the new Tsar presented himself to the military, in order for them to swear allegiance to him, several officers began a riot, claiming that Nicholas had usurped the throne from his brother. At this time, officers in the military consisted of the aristocracy, well educated young men, many of whom had been to Western Europe. It was rumored that these young men convinced the regular soldiers to chant "For Constantine and a constitution." However, the simple soldiers reportedly thought that constitution was Constantine's wife. Needless to say, a few officers and confused soldiers a revolution does not make. Most of the elite society believed that the officers would receive lenient sentences. First, it was the beginning of his reign, and heavy punishment would show the new Tsar to lack mercy. Second, and most importantly, these young men were aristocrats and nobles, who were well educated, and whose families had supported the autocracy for centuries. Regardless, Nicholas I gave them heavy sentences and the story of the Decembrists and their wives riding through Russia on their way to Siberia inspired others who opposed the Tsar.

According to my professor, it was this event that Tolstoy was trying to explain. How could the best and brightest, those who personally benefitted from the autocracy, decide they wanted a constitution? The simple answer, according to my professor: the Napoleanic wars. Under the previous Tsar, Alexander I, Russia had first fought against Napolean (along with the rest of Europe), made peace with him, and then fought him again, when he actually invaded Russia in 1812. This is the story told in War and Peace. I looked for and expected to find, the story of how the Napoleonic wars created the Decembrists. However, I should add right here, I did not find it. Or rather, I kind of sorta found it in two pages at the very end of the book. Now, my professor is much more intelligent than me, but I do consider myself quite intelligent also. Therefore, if I was looking for this, and didn't find it, how are all the people not looking for it going to find it. I must conclude that if Tolstoy did indeed write War and Peace to explain the Decembrists, he failed.

War and Peace is considered, by many, to be the best novel ever written. In Russia, people argue over who is the best writer, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. Now, I prefer Dostoevsky, but since Tolstoy is considered one of the greatest writers ever, I expected War and Peace to be a great story, highly readable, and that I would gain insight about the Napoleanic wars, Russian politics, Russian society and human nature. I did not. The book is divided into three volumes, of approximately 550 pages each. I felt that the first half of the book could adaquitely be summed up by reading Alexander Pushkins's Eugene Onegin, a much shorter story. The first half of War and Peace described the aristocratic scene, the love affairs, the intrigues, the nobility going broke and trying to broker advantageous marriages for their sons and daughters, the balls, the duels, the boredom, and only a small mix of politics. Although several of the characters are very well written, and you have to commend him for writing a story 1,600 pages long, it could have been much, much shorter.

Tolstoy actually praises himself for his description of the war, in the notes from the author. However, I felt his descriptions of the chaos, confusion, and futility of war could just as easily be gained by reading Red Badge of Courage or All Quiet on the Western Front. And again, both these books are much, much shorter than War and Peace.

However, I do not think the story, which is often fascinating, but quite longer than it needed to be, was not the reason Tolstoy wrote War and Peace. Throughout the book and in the Second Epilogue, Tolstoy delves into his philosophy of history. I believe this was his purpose in writing War and Peace. As these are by far the most boring part of the book, he probably felt he had to add a story to keep readers interested. In these sections, Tolstoy discusses history, the progress of history and so on. He argues about Great Man history (otherwise known as Dead White Man history). He argues about genius versus chance. He appropriates Hegel without naming him. He argues about whether or not God plays a role in history, whether we really have free will and whether history could progress without Napoleon and Alexander I. He discusses how history is written (political, cultural, by the victor). He was trying to figure out why men kill each other. Overall, he was trying to find the meaning of life, of history, of the world. This is his conclusion, "The activity of these people interested me only as an illustration of the law of predetermination which in my opinion guides history, and of that psychological law which compels a man who commits actions under the greatest compulsion, to supply in his imagination a whole series of retrospective reflections to prove his freedom to himself." This is not a bad lesson, only I didn't need to read 1,600 pages to get there. I already have my own theory of history.

Overall, I found War and Peace very disappointing. It is supposed to be the greatest book every written, by the greatest author ever born. Either I am too stupid to appreciate it, or too many people credit it with this title based on its length only. The story was good, but it was not worth the time of 1,600 pages. Perhaps I will pick it up in 30 years or so and will finally be illuminated, but for now, I remain firmly in Dostoevsky's corner and believe that the Napoleonic wars were the cause of the Decembrists, not because Tolstoy told me so, but because a very wise professor did.

Monday, August 27, 2007

This is good

Sorry I haven't written in a while. I travelled to Charlotte, NC to visit my friend Tiffany! She recently moved to NC from Wisconsin, where her advisor (not the same one as mine) crapped on her too. Something about Wisconsin advisers. The saddest part, I think Tiffany is waaaaay smarter than me, so I totally don't understand what happened. But the good news is that she moved pretty close to me. We hadn't seen each other since I moved, so it was wonderful seeing her again. We ate a lot of food, laughed a whole lot and talked about everything. I think everyone I know and love should move within 6 hours of me. That would make my life much happier. I can't wait to see Tiffany more often though.

On my way home, I picked up the kids. Wes had managed to score free tickets to Water Country USA because he's in the military. Now before you get all upset that us military people get everything, I would like to point out that Wes and I have been married for 18 months. Of that 18 months, we have lived together for eight months. Three of those months I lived in Madison while he lived here, but the rest is all because of the Navy. So, I think we deserve some free stuff to have fun. The kids had a great time and didn't burn. We had a great time and got a little pink, but no burns. Since I had spent the entire day before in the car, and then all day at the water park, I was just a little bit tired yesterday. And today.
We had a great weekend, but we found out some information that doesn't exactly make us happy. First, Wes's x told Victor he could get his ear pierced for his birthday. She did not consult Wes. Wes doesn't have a problem with boys getting their ear's pierced, he just thinks that Victor is too young. And he's very angry that she didn't consult him first. Secondly, the kids told me that due to some money emergencies (the cat, Victor's teeth, etc.) that their mom had to "borrow" all their birthday and Christmas money. This really upset Wes. On the one hand, the x left him for the "multi-millionaire" that she is now married to. And she has never worked, although we think she may work part time right now. On the other hand, these are his kids and he wants to make sure they are being properly taken care of. I think he may suggest to his x, when he discusses the ear piercing, that if they don't have the money to take care of the kids, even with the huge amount we pay every month, that perhaps the kids would be better off living with us. I hate the entire situation because it upsets him so much.
This is my first official harvest from my plants. We did pick one jalapeno last weekend for nachos, but this is the first time I picked more than one. And the plants are still covered. We're going to be eating peppers forever. That's ok though. It was fun, they taste better than the stores and our beautiful "back yard" of concrete was covered with something pretty.

Well, there is no food in the house, I have no clean clothes, I need to pay a few bills, and I really need to e-mail/call about 10 people. I hope everyone had a great weekend and I'm happy to say that I will be reviewing War and Peace before the end of the week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Lately, I've feeling strangely. It is a feeling I'm not familiar with and it took me a while to figure out what it was. I think it is called, "normal". Usually my feelings run the gambit from depressed to not depressed, with an occasional, "oh, I think this may be happiness." I've always had a list of things I wanted to do, volunteer, make friends, learn new things, but never did. I blamed it on depression. Now, I look at that list and go, "why haven't I done this stuff? Let's get started!" I've discovered that "nice" is the best word in the world. It may make one think things are generic, or boring, but in reality (ok, my reality), it means stability. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, realistically. Something I've never had. But now, my life is nice. The afghan I'm crocheting is nice. My healthy jalapeno and pepper plants are nice. Reading War and Peace for fun is nice. My husband is nice. His kids are nice. Figuring out what I want to do with my life, without feeling pressure is nice. And nice is the nicest word of all.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Did I get that right?

I've been messing with my page, trying to make it look all cool and everything, and I accidentally erased all my links. I was able to find most of the them, but not all them. If your link disappeared, it's not because I don't love you anymore, it's because I'm a highly intelligent person. I've been frantic trying to figure out how to get them back, then today, I realized (duh), just read my comments and get the links from there. Boy, I am brazilliant!

In other news, we had the kids this weekend and it was possibly the best weekend we've ever had with the kids (minus the sunburn). We went to the beach and had a great time. We played games, we played with toys, we went to church. We just had a great time. Although, the kids apparently think we play with their toys when they're not here. They asked, incredulously, what we did when they weren't there if we didn't play with their toys. Hmmmm. . . .I wonder!

Speaking of what we do when the kids aren't here, do you know how hard it is for two very tired, very sunburned people, one who has bruised his leg and pulled his groin trying to keep his daughter from being washed away by the ocean, have sex? Very difficult. But still worth it.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Guess where we went this weekend!

This is your leg.
This is your leg on sun.

Any questions?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

When it rains, it hails

My husband had to work Sunday (GO NAVY!) but he called me that evening. He mentioned that the weather had called for a level 1 thunderstorm with hail and wondered if we had gotten any.

Me: oh yes, I got some.
Him: what do you mean? The house?
Me: no, me personally.
Him: What?
Me: Well, I've been stuck in the house because of the weather and lack of car, so when I noticed that it was overcast this afternoon, I decided to go to the park to bird-watch.
Him: Yeah. . .
Me: I thought it was moving the other direction, and when I got to the park, it was still sunny.
Him: Ok. . . .
Me: I had walked half way around the pond (a rather large pond) when it started to get really windy, began to thunder and lightening and started to rain. But it wasn't raining hard, so I figured it would moved pretty quickly through.
Him: Um hm. . . .
Me: Then it started raining really, really hard, and I was about 10 to 15 minutes away from the car, with no umbrella, so I took refuge in a group of trees and bushes. It helped with the wind and the rain.
Him: Ok. . .
Me: But it just kept raining and raining and I finally realized I couldn't possibly get any wetter, so I might as well head for the car. Besides, it started to slow down.
Him: Well, that's good!
Me: But it didn't. It got worse. It got really, really windy. I almost lost my balance more than once. And the wind was coming across the pond, driving that water into me and the rain was coming down sideways. It felt like I was being hit by thousands of needles.
Him: At least it wasn't hailing.
Me: I thought that too. And then it began hailing. (When I told this story to my mom, she broke in here with, "was your car ok?" My car is 10 years old, has 100,000 miles on it and I bought it with hail damage. Thanks for being concerned about me.) It was only pea-size, but I was still about 10 minutes from the car. Especially since I was trying to walk sideways so I didn't get hit in the face with hail. Hail hurts. It actually broke my skin in a couple of places. But I finally made it to the car and came home and took a hot shower.
Him: Didn't you think to check the weather channel before you left?

So I'm sure my family is wondering why I'm such an idiot. I hate hail.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I was just lying in bed, trying to sleep, but too excited to do so. I keep running through the list of things in my head. Is the house clean enough? What outfit should I wear? What shoes should I wear? What should I make for dinner tomorrow night? Did I forget anything? I have painted my toenails AND my fingernails (I haven't painted them in years). I will shave tomorrow morning and remember to pick up ice-cream at the store. I can't wait to see my husband. I want to show him my new afghan, my plants, how far I've read in my book, my new computer game, the wedding pictures. Like a little kid I want to show off the good things I've done and hear how wonderful and good they are. And they will be. He won't find fault with anything. He will praise everything I show him. The house could be a mess, but it would be clean enough for him. I could serve up a frozen meal, and that would be fine. I could show up in a potato sack, and he would still think I was beautiful. All he wants, all he needs, is for me to be there, waiting for him. He needs to see my excitement in my eyes as the smile spreads across my face when I see him. He needs me to run into his arms and laugh and cry and hold him and tell him how much I missed him, how much I love him, how I never want him to leave again. He needs me to constantly touch him all night, to make sure it really is him. He just needs me. And because of that, I want to give him all the rest. I want to be the most intelligent, patient, gentle, beautiful, talented, creative, wonderful, loving wife in the world. Because I think he is the most intelligent, patient, gentle, beautiful, talented, creative, wonderful, loving husband in world. Because he truly loves me, for me. Something I never thought possible. I can't wait for tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Money is over-rated

My car failed the Virginia state inspection. My tint is getting old and bubbly and you can't see out of the back window. Or the passenger side window. Oh, and apparently I broke the front left CV axle boot too (I think just this week: it started making really weird noises). I took it to the Nissan dealership to fix all this crap and then mentioned that the car has 100,000 miles on it and I need it to last a couple more years. And I haven't taken it for a check-up (tune-up?) in, oh, about three or four years. Originally it was going to cost me $400. Now, now it's going to cost me $2,000. Well, if that's all. I have that laying around in change. Something about a timing belt leak and all my fluids need to be changed and a whole bunch of over stuff I glossed over for. But I guess it's still better than a monthly car payment. Thank God school starts soon, we need the money.

I think I might get one squash out of my container garden. That makes it the world's most expensive squash when you consider the containers, soil, mulch and water. It better taste good. My one lonely jalapeno plant is covered in jalapenos, which is very exciting, until I realized we don't really eat jalapenos. Four of my bell pepper plants look like they will produce as well. And then I realized, neither I nor my husband really like bell peppers. Hopefully they won't taste anything like the store bought ones, because really, who wants to grow anything that tastes like that. My veggies will be delicious. And, apparently, very expensive.