Tea & Tolstoy … Devouring War & Peace 31 Pages at a Time

My Lenten commitment - 2016 was to read War and Peace (unabridged)

A little “tea and Tolstoy” in our room in Carmel…on a Winter’s day…

While consuming lots and lots of tea, I accomplished a goal I’ve had for over a decade… to “re-read” a complete, unabridged, beautifully translated version of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  How this came about? I was a Russian Lit minor in college and for decades have professed that my favorite book of all time is War and Peace.  However, I was 21 years old when I read this epic tome and had been wondering whether it would hold up over time as #1 for me still…I mean, I’ve read a lot of great books since then.

Part of my love for everything “tea” came from reading this book in my early 20’s.  I remember that there was a constant referral to teatime throughout the text …  and often tea was taken in the most remote places..with generals in a tent, in a Russian battlefield, in the cold of winter … prepared for them by servants who lugged their leader’s samovars and tea through tough terrain.  Tea was seemingly ALWAYS present.  Men drank tea as much or more than women.  This constant taking of afternoon tea struck me as being oddly civilized, while all around,  thousands of lives were being destroyed, often on the whim of an arrogant officer’s shallow desire to gain favor, accolades or medals from a general, prince or the “great” Napoleon.   

On our recent trip to Carmel, I decided to lug my 1,279 page hardback book along and see if I could muster the tenacity to start.  As the Lenten season began while on our vacation, I made it a goal to finish reading the book in 40 days…that meant plowing through 31 pages a day to accomplish this task. Many are long, hard pages, as there was French language to wade through with the English translation depicted at the bottom of the page.  There is also lots of philosophy and dissertation about  ‘life in all it’s manifestations” expounded throughout by the brilliant author.

Well, I did it!  It took Tolstoy five years to write it and me 37 days to read it.  And yes, it holds up beautifully.  What an awesome, remarkable book.  I am truly glad that I read it again at a time in my life when I can more fully appreciate Tolstoy’s philosophy and astute reflections on history and what factors manifest war and peace – o.k., and there are great love stories throughout too   :-).

I can attest that the referral to tea time is prevalent in War and Peace, and just as in Downton Abbey, the setting of taking tea encouraged a great deal of drama and dialogue.  I almost think that we really could solve most of the world’s problems over a cup of tea – if only we had the will to do so :-).

Reading Tolstoy again reinforced for me how “teatime can be anytime and anyplace,” and that,  great literature is great for a reason…because the universal themes of life transcend time.   I felt accomplished when done and comforted that while many things have changed since the war in 1812, the comfort and civilized rituals around having a cup of tea has withstood the test of time and continues to be a good thing in the scheme of life.. and war and peace.

Drink tea…it’s good for you!