Tag Archives: Tolstoy

Collection Spotlight: Give War and Peace a Chance, by Andrew D. Kaufman

Reviewed by Harold Henkel, Associate Librarian

“To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than all else is to love this life in one’s
sufferings, in undeserved sufferings.” (from Pierre Bezukhov’s dream in War and Peace)

Something must be in the air. In the past two years, three journalists and scholars have written books with the intention of convincing readers to tackle what are perhaps the three most formidable novels of the nineteenth century: Moby Dick1, Middlemarch2, and War and Peace3. The common thread in this approach to criticism is that reading great works of literature is not an exercise in self-abnegation, but a journey of discovery, and an enjoyable one at that.

The most recent of these worthy efforts is Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times, by Andrew Kaufman. Kaufman is Lecturer in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. In 2009, he served as a sort of “scholar in residence” for Regent’s Big Read, conducting workshops and delivering the culminating lecture of the Library’s Tolstoy festival.

Give War and Peace a Chance comes three years after Kaufman’s scholarly monograph Understanding Tolstoy and is the fruit of the author’s desire to reach a wider readership. The book is quite a hybrid work, weaving elements of biography, critical analysis, philosophy, and memoir. In twelve chapters, Kaufman takes us on an excursion through the fundamental elements that form our lives, such as happiness, love, family, and death. He explains how these themes operated in Tolstoy’s life and how he gave expression to them in War and Peace.

Along the way, Kaufman also shares episodes from his own life to illustrate how works like War and Peace help us make sense of lives. Some readers might object to the author including his personal story into a book on Tolstoy, but for my part, Kaufman’s accounts of falling in love as a student with Natasha Rostova, or his grief as an adult at the death of a beloved kitten, illustrate the dual refraction that takes place when we read literature. Our temperament and past experiences combine to form our interpretation of a work, but books like War and Peace ultimately change us by enhancing our understanding of ourselves and compassion for others.

At the end of the introduction, Kaufman quotes Tolstoy’s explanation, written during the composition of War and Peace, of his philosophy of art: “The goal of the artist is not to solve a question irrefutably, but to force people to love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.” These words also appear movingly in Kaufman’s dedication of the book to his wife and son and encapsulate what he considers to be the ultimate reward awaiting readers who give War and Peace a chance.


1Nathaniel Philbrick, Why Read Moby-Dick? (New York: Penguin, 2013).

2Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch (New York: Crown, 2014).

3Andrew D. Kaufman, Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014).

What R U Reading?

Librarian Robert Sivigny takes a break from War and Peace
Librarian Robert Sivigny takes a break from War and Peace
Robert Sivigny, University Librarian

In the Library’s Big Read finale event last February, Tolstoy scholar Andrew Kaufman mentioned that there was a new translation of War and Peace by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. This remark captured my attention as I have always wanted to read this classic. What an epic journey it has been. A magnificent story!

E-mail us a photo of yourself and what you’re reading to harohen@regent.edu.

The Big Read Festival Kicks Off at the Library

Written by Harold Henkel, Assistant Librarian

Dear Friends & Readers,

The Big Read is here! Our festival offers a program of entertaining and stimulating events that will introduce participants to the richness of Russian culture, and in particular, to the genius of Leo Tolstoy by focusing on his late novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Please stop by the Library for your free copy or contact Harold Henkel at harohen@regent.edu. The Regent University Library invites all interested readers throughout Hampton Roads to take part in our Big Read festival and discover the pleasure of reading great literature with your friends.


  • Essay & Video Contests

    The Library is sponsoring video and essay contests, with separate categories for contestants under and over 18. Top prize for each category is $150. The deadline for all entries is midnight, January 31, 2009. For details, click here for essay and here for video contest rules.


  • War, Love, Repentance: A Festival of Russian Cinema
    Dates: January 16, 23, 30
    Time: 7:00 p.m.
    Location: Library Auditorium
    Regent film faculty Prof. Andrew Quicke and Dr. Dennis Bounds will host a festival of Russian cinema on three Friday evenings. All showings are free and open to the public.
  1. January 16: Dr. Dennis Bounds will host Prisoner of the Mountains (1996)-Sergei Bodrov’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s short story, “A Prisoner of the Caucasus.”
  2. January 23: Prof. Andrew Quicke will host Anna Karenina (1967)-Alexander Zarkhi’s classic film of Tolstoy’s masterpiece.
  3. January 30: Prof. Andrew Quicke will host Ostrov (2006)-Pavel Lungin’s powerful film of guilt, repentance, and holiness set in a Russian monastery in the far north.
  • Faculty Lunch Symposium: Ivan Ilyich’s Problems
    Date: January 27
    Time: 12:00 p.m.
    Location: Library Atrium
    A panel of Regent University faculty will discuss The Death of Ivan Ilyich from the perspective of their disciplines: Dr. Rosemarie Hughes, School of Psychology and Counseling; Dr. Michael Palmer, School of Divinity; Prof. David Wagner, School of Law. Also joining the panel will be Dr. Maria Grise, Department of Russian, Old Dominion University and Fr. James Pavlow, pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach. Lunch will be served. The event is free and open to the public. R.S.V.P. Harold Henkel (harohen@regent.edu) by January 23.


  • Book Discussion in Russian
    Date: February 5
    Time: 6:30 p.m.
    Location: Library 1st Floor Reading Area
    The Library will host a discussion in Russian of The Death of Ivan Ilyich for native Russian speakers, speakers of Russian as a second language, and students of Russian. For more information, contact Harold Henkel at harohen@regent.edu or 757-352-4198.


  • A Taste of Russia
    Date: February 10
    Time: 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
    Location: Regent Ordinary
    Chef Dan Murphy will present two classics of the Russian kitchen, Ukrainian Borsch and Salmon Kulebyaka. The event is open to the public.   


  • Give War and Peace a Chance: How Tolstoy Can Change Your Life
    Date: February 10
    Time: 6:00 p.m.
    Location: Robertson Hall, Moot Courtroom

    Dr. Andrew Kaufman, scholar, author, actor, lecturer at the University of Virginia, and Russian literature expert for Oprah’s Book Club will discuss how Tolstoy’s works confront the essential questions of life: What does it mean to lead a good life? What is necessary for true happiness? Is suffering beneficial? How does one truly live by the teachings in the Gospels? Dr. Kaufman (aka Professor Andy) will explain how Tolstoy’s books can inspire, challenge and change you and why the works of a 19th century Russian aristocrat are the best self-help books on the market. A reception will follow in the Robertson Hall Lobby.


  • Big Read Kick-Off
    On January 9, our festival of Tolstoy and Russian culture kicked off in the Library with remarks from Dean Sara Baron, Dr. Carlos Campo, librarian Harold Henkel, and a dramatic reading by the Library’s systems manager and resident thespian, Mark Zillges. Click here to view the photo gallery from the kickoff.
  • Library Book Club Discussion
    On January 13, the Library Book Club hosted its best-attended meeting to date with Russian refreshments and lively discussion. Click here to view the photo gallery from the book discussion.
    Tolstoy at the Plough by Ilya Repin, 1887
    Tolstoy at the Plough by Ilya Repin, 1887

Don’t seek God in temples. He is close to you. He is within you. Only you should surrender to Him and you will rise above happiness and unhappiness. 

Leo Tolstoy