War and Peace

Michael Wood writes:

If the new translation catches or even slightly exacerbates Tolstoy’s ruthlessness, it also does something else remarkably well. It shows us again and again another attribute of his writing, something that can sometimes feel almost like mercy: namely, an intricate understanding and assertion of a different norm, that of the ordinary incoherence of human feelings. We see instances of it in the examples above. The father who torments his daughter does love her: that’s why he torments her. The talkative colonel is not necessarily heartless: just talkative. And the persons to whom spite is attributed – Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostov principally – are not only spiteful, they have many other qualities, and a few other defects.

(LRB 22 May 2008)

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