Reading the Russians

London Review Bookshop kicks off its book club with Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

Still from Sergei Bondarchuk’s “War and Peace” (1965). Photo via RIA Novosti

To mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the London Review Bookshop will be hosting a book club dedicated to masterpieces of Russian literature. Not ones to ease readers in gently, they have chosen Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” as the inaugural title. Whether you have read Tolstoy’s complete works, or discovered Natasha Rostova for the first time in the 2016 BBC adaptation, the event welcomes all readers interested in discussing the novel’s various stage and screen adaptations, enduring influence, and multiple translations. 

The first meeting will be held on April 20, giving readers just over a month to read (or reread) the weighty tome. The event is free but participants must register beforehand. The book club is a collaboration between the LRB Bookshop and the Penguin imprint Vintage Classics, which has published a new six-volume collection that includes Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s 2007 translation of “War and Peace.”

It was the prolific Constance Garnett – translator of 70 works of Russian literature – who first introduced Natasha, Andrei and Pierre to English audiences with her 1903 translation of “War and Peace.” Despite her habit of skipping over difficult passages, Garnett’s prose encouraged other translators to try their hand at “War and Peace.” As the husband-and-wife team of Pevear and Volokhonsky says: “We keep reading [Tolstoy], because in his artistic work he deals with universal conditions and almost never with topical issues, and because he has such an extraordinary gift for concrete realization.”