Maybe it was because I was tired – I’m not sure.  But as I read this chapter on the train to work today, it just struck me as being so achingly moving.  All these soldiers, knowing they’re about to die, just mucking around with little trivial things – anything to take their mind off the battle.

It reminds me a little bit about what I love most about the Shaara war novels – there is an aching sadness to war that is captured that we so often miss (especially in Hollywood war battles).  There is meant to be something devastating about so many people waiting to die.

And then . . . we experience it all through Andrei.  For some reason, despite having read the book twice, seen the Russian film at least three times, I could never remember what happened after the moment where the grenade lands near him (though I do remember it spinning for an inordinately long length of time).  Now I do remember. (Maybe my mind blocked it out.)

Again, we see history repeating itself, as Andrei cops a beating in the thick of battle.  It’s funny – this time, he doesn’t have a glorious revelation of the sky, of everything vast and unknowable.  This time, it’s simply a clinging to life – realising that, for all its misery, he still wants to be alive.  All of this is simply summed up in the closing sentences, “Why was I so sorry to part with life? There was something in this life that I didn’t understand, and don’t understand.”

I apologise to any of the readers who are getting a bit battled out (this is the longest book we’ve had to read so far).  It can be a bit much.  But, really, you won’t find war writing much better than this anywhere.

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2 thoughts on “One-Year War and Peace 10.36 – Waiting …

  1. Yes, this is certainly another very graphic chapter and, like you Matt, I found it very moving. In fact, it felt particularly heart-rending reading it today, with so many tales of death and injury and loss flooding our newspapers and news reports today, in the aftermath of the weekend fires.

    But it was certainly chilling, as you pointed out, reading about all those trivial distractions that the exhausted troops tried to occupy themselves with – even Andrei, playing little games with himself, countin out the steps as he walks across the field. And it kind of jarred, I think, coming hard on the heels of yesterday’s chapter, where Kutuzov was putting so much hope in the spirit of the army – and here, amongst those toops, we see how dejected and flattened they are.

    Certainly, too, Andrei’s newfound love for life was all the more powerful, and poignant, in the light of his bleak despair a few chapters ago. It makes you think that the real tragedy is not so much death and loss, but that it takes the threat of death and loss for us to learn to really value life.

    As for being “battled out” by all these chapters detailing the war – it’s actually interesting because, when I first read W&P, I think I did find some of the battle writing pretty long – but now, reading it chapter by chapter, I am so much more appreciative of just how rich this writing is, and that it’s not just descriptions of a bunch of soldiers at battle, but an extremely full and fertile picture of humans, and humanity, in crisis.

  2. We here in Canada have been following the news on your fires – I hope this situation can be brought to an end as soon as possible.

    Hope all is well with you two fellas . . .

    Yes – Andrei – at this point in the story, he pretty well knows he’s not going to survive. Sort of ‘in between’ life and death, I guess.

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