War and Peace, a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, is considered one of the most important novels of world literature. It describes the French invasion of Russia and its impact on Russian society. This is told through the eyes of five Russian aristocratic families. In many ways War and Peace is not a novel but rather a philosophical discussion. The last section of the novel is in fact an essay.
Important characters of the novel are Pierre Bezukhov, Helen Kuragin, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, Princess Maria Bolkonskaya, Countess Natasha Rostova and Count Nikolai Rostov. Pierre Bezukhov is the central character of the novel. He is the illegitimate son of Count Kirill Bezukhov. Educated abroad, Pierre returns to Russia and finds himself in a society that doesn't suit him. However, his inheritance of a large fortune changes his life.
Helen Kuragin marries Pierre Bezukhov after he is legitimized as the heir to his father's title and fortune. At first Pierre is happy to be married to such a beautiful woman, but later realizes she is only with him for social and financial advantage.
Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is a strong but conflicted military leader. His first wife dies and he later becomes engaged to Countess Natasha Rostova.
Princess Maria Bolkonskaya is the sister of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. She is a pious woman with a very kind heart, but her father makes her life difficult.
Countess Natasha Rostova is a young and romantic girl. She is a very accomplished singer and dancer.
Count Nikolai Rostov, the brother of Countess Natasha Rostova, is the eldest son of the Rostov family. He later marries Princess Maria Bolkonskaya.
Napoleon is also an important character of the novel. Leo Tolstoy portrays the French leader as arrogant and overconfident in his invasion of Russia. The Russian General Kutuzov is a wise and patient military tactician who manages to defeat Europe's largest army.
War and Peace questions ideas of fate and free will. It is a historical novel which presents Leo Tolstoy's complex theory of history. In his view, historians do not tell the whole truth but their own version coloured by prejudices and interpretations. War and Peace is an account of Napoleon's war with Russia from the Russian perspective. Leo Tolstoy tells us that history is never simple but rather a network of connected events influenced by previous ones. The realistic descriptions of war, the interactions of the aristocratic families, and the complex ideas explored by Leo Tolstoy truly make War and Peace an outstanding novel.