The beginning of this book is like arriving at a party late when you don’t know anybody. Interesting to note that Russian names have a lot of variations, as well as a patronym which I don’t think is used in any western cultures.
The Bolkónskys: Prince Andréy is married to Líza, who is pregnant. He is unhappily married and doesn’t enjoy the social aspects of high society. He has decided to go to war, and visits his father who lives in relative seclusion along with his sister Márya before he leaves.
The Drubetskóys: Mother and son, in financial desperation, despite being seemingly high up in society. The mother is very meddling and uses her connections to get her son Boris a better status in the army.
The Bezúkhovs: Pierre is an illegitimate son of the aging Count, who dies after a series of strokes. To his family’s surprise and displeasure, Pierre is left the Count’s estate and title following his death. Although Pierre was of low social standing (being illegitimate) he was accepted in society. I think he will be used to bridge the gap between classes. He is highly suggestible, and is trying to work out what his occupation will be.
The Rostóvs: Youngest daughter half promised to Boris (i.e. they have promised each other). There is a gap between the older and younger siblings, highlihgting family dynamics.
In a book with such a grand scale, I imagine a continuous theme will be the attempt to understand other people’s motivations, for example the death of Count Bezúkhov brings a focus on death and legacies and how different assumptions of motives can be from reality. This is also shown in part one through the various characters setting off for war, and their reasons for doing so. Which in turn is I guess a broader comment on man’s tendency to go to war and how this gives (or removes) life’s purpose and meaning. The war itself provides a kind of commentary for what was a key issue in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars (I assume!); stick with traditional Russian values, or Westernise.