The hardest thing about listening to War and Peace was keeping all the characters straight. I used Spark Notes, and also read along with the audio book. The ebook is readily available for free. I even kept notes at first as to who belonged to what family, which I referred to often. I did not follow all of the goings on of the war, but I got enough of it to understand its meaning as it relates to the story. It took me about half to two-thirds of the way through the story before I got totally sucked into it. There are about four stories going on at one time, and Tolstoy jumps from one to the other seemingly at will.
I came to care about, love or hate many of the characters, but it took a while. What I did come to love were the Russian people of the early 19th century as a whole. One of my favorite parts of the book occurs at the end of the first epilogue (who writes more than one epilogue???). Tolstoy writes a caricature of the Napoleonic Wars. It is so funny, and yet it puts the whole thing into great historical context, which at that point I really needed. I could have lived without the second epilogue. Although it is well written, and uses a great metaphor, it had absolutely nothing to do with the story.
As far as Tolstoy as a writer, I have to give him a ???5???. He is a fabulous writer, and I found myself listening to long philosophical musings just because I loved the sound of the prose. He is obviously incredibly intelligent, and a very deep thinker.
The narrator, Neville Jason, ranks up there with the best of the best. He is outstanding. I give him a ???5??? as well.
The story itself: From the stand point of keeping my interest, continuity and action, I give it a ???4???. From the standpoint of the quality of the writing, it has to be a ???5???. From the standpoint of what I learned from the story, or in other words, did it have an impact on my life? I would definitely have to give it a ???5??? as well. So averaging everything out, the book gets a ???5???.
I ended up loving this book. Yes, it is long, and has a lot of stuff in it that could be cut out, but omitting anything would lessen the book. I am very happy that I listened to the entire 61 hours and 44 minutes. I am pretty sure I have changed, and have grown as a person as a result of this book. Now I'm going to go listen to something light and cheerful!
BTW, Neville Jason is an amazing narrator! My standard for judging a good narrator is "could I listen to him read the phone book and enjoy it?" Yes, I could, Neville. Thank you.
I can't decide if I really like this book or not. I certainly like a lot of things about it, especially the ending, but I got bogged down in it. I realize it is a classic and that everyone should read it, but it just got a little strung out for me. I think if I had been alive in the late 19th century I would have loved it, but it isn't as relevant now.
However, I totally sympathize with the plight of the working man of the time. The working conditions were deplorable and wages were so low that a man could not support his family. Not just men, but women and children, and even very old people worked in the coal mines, anyone who was able bodied enough to hold down a job. But even with two, three, or four incomes per household, these families were starving and wearing rags. And worse, they had no hope of ever having a better life. The strike depicted in this book, although it did not change things a whole lot, paved the way for later, more successful strikes that led to better working conditions and higher wages, thus the name of the book. We are all the beneficiaries of the things these people went through, and for that I am grateful.
Of course the incomparable Frederick Davidson is a fabulous narrator. I know some people consider him to be "an acquired taste," and I agree with that to a point. But he is worth the effort of getting to know and appreciate. No one reads better than he does.