There is a point at which two officers who were acquaintances before the war come across each other in the middle of a battle and one remarks to the other: “It’s a small world isn’t it?” He could just as easily have added “and one full of coincidences” because they pervade the story.
Mind you that is not a criticism because this is classic stuff where the lives of a handful of key characters are intertwined and just as someone gives up hope the a stranger comes over the hill and a long lost love is returned.
With the marriage of Katia in ruins after Dasha made her admit her infidelity with the poet Bessonov one sister heads for Paris and the other to her father. But after some letters from Katia their father tells Dasha to go and see her husband Nikolai Ivanovich and tell him to go and fetch her.
She slays the temptation in the form of Bessonov, who is also in the Crimea, and meets the lover of her life Ivan Telegin who informs her that he is going off to fight in the war.
He heads off and the years pass by with Dasha working as a nurse in Moscow living with her brother in law. Finally Katia returns and they are all together. But the marriage is still clearly over and Katia falls for an officer who heads off to join the fight against the Germans and Austrians. Even Nikolai Ivanovich is called up.
Bessonov, who is a shadow of his former self, heads off to join the red cross workers at the front. He bids farewell by chance to Dasha in Moscow and then in a scene that sums up the futility of war and the hideous element of chance the poet is killed by a deserter. There is no motive other than fear for the crime and the poet is left for dead at the edge of a forest.
Meanwhile, Telegin escapes and heads back to the Russian lines and then after being rescued heads for Dasha. He meets her and her happiness returns.
It might seem to be a bit nineteenth century in feel but it is enjoyable reading and between the lines there is a fair amount of criticism of the Tsarist regime but also the Russians themselves who are prone to irrational aggression and driven by selfishness.
There is one great quote that sums up the pre-revolution problems expressed by Katia’s husband Nikolai Ivanovich:
“I saw that our life was all wrong; that this incessant pleasure-seeking would end some day in an explosion of despair.”