What possesses us to be so engaged in stories we read? I have written before about reading, and my Kindle, for instance.
I am an amateur of Russian literature and history – amateur in the original sense, in that I am very fond of it. At the moment I am reading a contemporary novel called City of Thieves, by David Benioff. It sort of qualifies as a Russian novel, the way an Olympic athlete qualifies for other than his native country if, for instance, his grandmother or aunt, or some other distant relative, comes from the country. David Benioff’s mother came from Russia. On Wikipedia I discovered he has also written several screenplays, such as The Kite Runner, and X-Men, and is currently working on a screenplay of the life of Kurt Cobain. I recommend the book City of Thieves; it will probably get a 4 or a 5 on my ratings on Shelfari.
About a third of the way through the book, one of the central characters, Kolya – on the run from Russian authorities during the siege of Leningrad during the Second World War – has some very disparaging comments to make about Natasha Rostov, one of the central female characters in War and Peace. He calls her a “vapid twit.” In War and Peace, Tolstoy is much more sympathetic toward Natasha who becomes the wife of the central male character, Pierre Bezukhov, a union that signifies some harmony and balance after lives of wandering in the moral wilderness. Pierre’s first wife, Helene, is certainly vapid. But I suppose I am getting a little carried away taking issue with Kolya – who after all is himself a fictional character.
But that is the case with War and Peace and any enduring book: the characters are so real one seems to have a personal relationship with them, and intense sympathy with their dreams and fears. One of life’s great pleasures.