Issue 232, Spring 2020
They had finished reading War and Peace, and now they were celebrating their triumph at a Russian supper club in Brighton Beach. There were twelve of them seated at the long table (“Just like that painting of what’s-his-name’s dinner, minus what’s-his-name,” Kyla said brightly), and, well, Derek assumed that at least half had probably finished War and Peace. Or, fine: he imagined it was safe to say that, on the whole, the table had at least started reading War and Peace.
Derek had made it to within a hundred pages of the end, though he had admittedly skimmed a little down the stretch. He knew that Pierre and Natasha got together, which had begun to seem structurally inevitable at some point—in approximately ten thousand pages there were only about five characters—though it was somewhat psychologically improbable. He also wasn’t totally clear on what a samovar was.
He’d been proved wrong in his interpretations of the text at many junctures over the eight months they’d spent reading and discussing the book, his theories and analyses shot down by better, or at least more confidently, educated members of the group. Some of them had gone to Yale and others to Harvard, and he’d developed a handy cheat to remember which had gone where. The Harvard kids acted mildly embarrassed when he said something dumb, sometimes even waiting until after the session to correct him on his political or geographic ignorance. The ones from Yale made sure to keep the humiliation public and, if possible, prolonged.
In one of their first meetings, Derek had suggested that Tolstoy showed a grudging respect for Napoleon, or was at least willing to acknowledge his world-historic importance, even though he was the enemy.
“That’s completely the opposite of true,” a tall man named Jonathan said. “Tolstoy despisedNapoleon and thought the whole idea of historical significance was nonsense. Do you have any examples?”