Monday, February 10, 2014

Life on the page

Right now, I'm reading War and Peace, as translated by the husband-and-wife team, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I don't know much about the two, except that I love their photo (left) and I want to adopt them.

I do know that the thing I like best about reading Tolstoy are those moments when his eye-of-God narration really gets "life on the page." Like this paragraph, where the opposing French and Russian armies are just yards apart, waiting for combat to start. Tolstoy dives into their collective thought bubble with:

"One step beyond that line, reminiscent of the line separating the living from the dead, and it's the unknown, suffering, and death. And what is there? who is there? there, beyond this field, and the tree, and the roof lit by the sun? No one knows, and you would like to know; and you're afraid to cross that line, and would like to cross it; and you know that sooner or later you will have to cross it and find out what is there on the other side of that line, as you will inevitably find out what is there on the other side of the death...."

To me, this is an earnest (and true) expression of what it's like to be on the brink of some major life event--that incredible torture of both wanting to know and not wanting to know, while also understanding that knowing won't make a difference: our futures are as inevitable as they are unimaginable. When I read this, I feel like I recognize my own experiences on the page, and that--to me--is one of the best gifts a writer can give.

Quote from: War and Peace. eds. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York, NY: Vintage Classics; 2008. Vol. 1, Part 2, VIII, p141, para 2.

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