Tolstoy in Traffic

Nice view, hey? Windscreen’s a bit dirty but you still get a good idea of sunrise over the N2, which is what I saw this morning on my way to work at the military base. Now I know I shouldn’t try to multi-task in early morning traffic. Trying to listen to War and Peace on my car stereo, taking a picture of the sunrise with my phone and staying in the right lane at the same time is not recommended.

I blame Bloglily 😉 I was reading her Measure for Measure experience on the train and I thought that my 40-minute car journey (each way) every day would be a perfect opportunity to catch up on some classics. Unfortunately the choice in my dad’s CD collection was between the collected works of Marcel Proust (about 20 CDs) and Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Now I’ve got nothing against Proust but being in the military for a year (community service) meant that I opted for Tolstoy. I would have preferred Anna Karenina just for its opening line: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Sadly all the Jane Austens were on tape.

About five minutes into my journey, happily going against the town traffic, I realised that my concentration was waning. Trying to get your mind around a whole cast of new characters while you are rushing to work in the dark is probably a recipe for disaster. Fortunately I could slow down to about 80 or 90 kms/hr on the freeway in order to actually hear some of the action.

So what can I tell you? As one wisecrack put it, it’s about Russia. Also don’t marry for money because you can borrow it much cheaper. Actually I haven’t got there yet. I guess one way of looking at the action so far is that it’s very bourgeois, and I wonder if Lenin or his contemporaries read Tolstoy (they must have done). One memorable but rather silly part is the account of how Pierre, the lovable but rogueish illegitimate son of Count Bezukhov, strapped a policeman onto the back of a bear and dropped them both into a river. I guess it’s a kind of epic soap opera for its time. The Young and the Restless or Days of our Tragic Russian Lives. Love and death are just around the corner but for the moment we’re knee-deep in salon parties. Bring on the revolution?

From a gender perspective it’s also interesting. Prince Andrei on marriage:

“Never, never marry, my dear fellow! That’s my advice: never marry till you can say to yourself that you have done all you are capable of, and until you have ceased to love the woman of your choice and have seen her plainly as she is, or else you will make a cruel and irrevocable mistake.”

Thankfully this is the abridged version.


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