There are few writers whose legacies loom as large as the page counts of their most famous works; that’s why talking Leo Tolstoy can be almost as frightening as reading his works. Just uttering the titles of War and Peace or Anna Karenina can inspire traumatized flashbacks in those who encountered these behemoths before they were ready for them. But it’s not the length of his novels that inspire many to call Tolstoy not just one of the greatest writers ever, but the greatest writer ever; in large part, that’s due to his ability to write unforgettable characters. In celebration of his 185th birthday, here are his top five.
5. Natasha Rostova, War and Peace
Natasha Rostova is an underdog. Introduced as a “black-eyed, wide-mouthed girl, not pretty but full of life,” we watch her grow from 13 years old to 28 throughout the book, and endure her share of woe and heartbreak — but she always comes back a little wiser and stronger.