Anna Karenina

ISBN: 1593080271
ISBN 13: 9781593080273
By: Leo Tolstoy Constance Garnett Amy Mandelker

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Genres

Classic Classics Fiction Historical Fiction Literature Romance Russia Russian Russian Literature To Read

About this book

Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society.From its famous opening sentence — "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.

Reader's Thoughts

Litchick (is stuck in the 19th century)

Tyler

When the Russian elite first read this idyll to their vanity, they must have fallen headlong into the reflecting pool right after Narcissus. For now, you see, not only are they rich and powerful, but according to Tolstoy they’re also supremely virtuous. The theme of this book does the trick.Say a painter decides to do a Madonna and Child. Looking around, he frowns as he sees that this subject has already been painted thousands of times in every possible way over the ages. To stand out, he decides to paint the biggest, baddest Madonna and Child ever. Such is Tolstoy’s approach to the book’s theme, an admiring homage to God, family and class.Though the author paints on a sprawling canvas, this theme handcuffs the plot, which gets so predictable that it can be seen hundreds of pages in advance more or less what will happen. This same sprawl handcuffs character development because the characters have to be all bad or all good in order to make the author’s point. So the book needs exemplary writing in order to work.Here, however, Tolstoy never really trusts us to extract the message from his story. He tends to spell it out for us in case we didn’t get it the first time. After a few promising paragraphs, or pages, the prose gets eclipsed by remarks better suited to religious tracts, the kinds with cartoon crosses and all caps, and a penchant for showing up anonymously in public places. As a result, too much of the author can be seen and not enough of his story.Further damaging the narrative is the laughable misogyny by which the Stepford-wife females make fools of themselves. At one point, for example, three upper class women victoriously demonstrate to a dazzled peasant cook that their recipe makes the tastiest jam. All through the book, the corset-yanking writer pulls out every cliché, right down to the hooker with a heart of gold who, mortified by her own scarlet shame, literally (with a shawl) effaces herself before a ruling-class woman of virtue and promptly exits the stage after a disgraceful cameo. We’d have a veritable encyclopedia of sexism except that these caricatures must in turn compete with more subtle excoriations of liberals. The eponymous Anna, her eyes glittering, showcases the step-by-step descent into nihilism that liberalism causes, abetted by freethinkers and possibly even by atheists. Though more subtle, this condemnation is still much too obvious to the reader.Choking on dogma, the story scrapes bottom awhile. But luckily, about page 700, the author drags the manuscript off the mortuary table and applies shock. Over the next 240 pages, he tones down the agitprop, and Levin’s generally well written epiphany in the last 60 pages shoves this Frankenstein past the finish line. The author tries to mine the same vein as Dostoevsky, another religious conservative. But where Dostoevsky succeeds brilliantly, Tolstoy fizzles. The urge to moralize so impedes the narrative flow that it ruins the effect. What’s left is an archipelago of excellent prose floating on a pond of unctuous treacle.I wanted to give this novel at least some credit for these stretches of good writing. But sadly, the distractions in the writing conspired with a predictable plot and monochromatic characters to turn this book into a train wreck.

Teresa

*update*ohmygoodness that took forever. that was a commitment. i think that was the longest book i've ever read. whew.so well obviously it was a lot to ingest so i'm sure my feelings will be developing and changing in the days to come. right now i feel satisfied and content with the book, but not amorous or breathless. i really enjoyed section eight because it gave you a happy ending, but one that felt very rational and possible. i am very much for endings that try their hardest to reflect real life. to me that is satisfaction, honesty and comedy. poor tolstoy/levin; he's so serious and agonized. i really felt his spirit lift when he went into nature odes. like the setting of Levin's final emotional release was so pared down and rich.now what was really cool was the counterpoint between Levin and Anna. on one level they work together as foils. but on a second level they are kindred spirits both managing discontent. this synchronizes with something i learned in training today. we're supposed to emphasize to the kids both their similarities to one another and also their uniqueness. i overall got this feeling from tolstoy that he is a very empathetic person who wants to display human nature without bias but in all its complexity as a kind of appreciator. i much liked how Levin was perceived by others. sometimes he was seen as a good man, a brooding man, a difficult man, a saintly man. the whole book you felt he was trying on different modes of existence, like he was forming. or maybe he was the same all along but people judged him based on their own tastes. he never seemed natural in any setting except when alone in nature or with kitty. i like how levin felt simultaneously like an emotional construction zone and the sanest person in the book. he was so plagued by acute frustration and confusion. he was really pitiful. it's weird to feel pity and admiration simultaneously. i think what i've written so far explains the book pretty well. overall the book gives you a weird feeling towards making judgements. i used to think it was something easy "sex in the city - i love it; fast food - evil; etc." but tolstoy really challenges the way we habitually understand things that is in a one-dimensional way. tolstoy shows you everyone from so many different angles that a character's presence becomes more and more something that just exists. there are no archetypes blowing messages out of megaphones; i think tolstoy would consider archetypes lowbrow. as i read i was playing the judgement-making game, but over time i had to stop doing it. it wasn't necessary in the world of this book. this was a new feeling for me. right now i feel a little mixed up and pushed around. but also i think i just ingested too many words :Pp.s. i felt like tolstoy was conflicted in his feelings towards anna and levin. i think this is why i don't know how to feel. see how i don't feel right if i can't easily peg a character down?well i am not sure whether to give three or four stars. three stars because i don't feel post-read euphoria like i like. four stars because tolstoy really put it all out there. four stars for respect.

Reynje

At least once a year since I was fifteen, I have attempted to finish Anna Karenina. I get to the exact same point each time (around halfway) and then just... stop. I have no idea why. It's turning into my book-nemesis, which drives me crazy because I want to love it. Anyway, I declare 2012 "Reynje vs Anna Karenina: Ultimate Book Smackdown". It's on.

Paul

For the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament round 2.****The ball was only just beginning as Anna walked up the great staircase, flooded with light, and lined with flowers and footmen in powder and red coats. From the rooms came a constant, steady hum, as from a hive, and the rustle of movement; and while on the landing between trees the ladies gave last touches to their hair and dresses before the mirror, they heard from the ballroom the careful, distinct notes of the fiddles of the orchestra beginning the first waltz. A beardless youth, in an exceedingly open waistcoat, straightening his white tie as he went, bowed to them, and after running by, came back to ask Anna for a quadrille, which she promised him. Although her dress, her coiffure, and all the preparations for the ball had cost Anna great trouble and consideration, at this moment she walked into the ballroom in her elaborate tulle dress over a pink slip as easily and simply as though all the rosettes and lace, all the minute details of her attire, had not cost her or her family a moment's attention, as though she had been born in that tulle and lace, with her hair done up high on her head, and a rose and two leaves on the top of it. It was one of Anna's best days. Her dress was not uncomfortable anywhere; her rosettes were not crushed nor torn off; her pink slippers with high, hollowed-out heels did not pinch, but gladdened her feet; and the thick rolls of fair chignon kept up on her head as if they were her own hair. Her bare shoulders and arms gave Anna a sense of chill marble, a feeling she particularly liked. Her eyes sparkled, and her rosy lips could not keep from smiling from the consciousness of her own attractiveness. She had scarcely entered the ballroom and reached the throng of ladies, all smiles and ribbons, when a mighty blow assailed her, blood burst from her earlobe and she collapsed straightway to the floor, amidst a swirl of consternation. All eyes turned to the assailant who was a prim looking young woman arrived lately from England. Her gown was plain but striking, with a design incorporating flashes of orange taffeta, which some of the ladies present had not seen before, and were keen to copy. A gentleman standing by removed the candlestick from the lady's gloved hand, or, in fact, she indifferently gave it to him. "How vicious, how vicious," cried many of the ladies thronging about Anna's prone form, attempting to stop the copious blood flow with tulle and valencienne. The beardless youth, in fine fury, leaped before the Englishwoman and demanded of her – "What treachery is this? In heaven's name, whence come you and whance this cruelty?" The lady cast her eyes about the enraged, brilliantly spangled assembly. "I believe you will find that whance is no word in any dictionary, neither in England nor Russia. I say this with a modicum of authority, grammar is one of the lessons I have had to teach. Sir, I have travelled many miles for this, and now it is done. She will rise no more –" poking Anna's outstretched leg which was slightly twitching – "but should she do so she will receive another buffet." "But what dispute had you with this lady?" said the young man, attempting, it appeared, to make some sort of inquiry as to the purpose of the assault. "And are you not aware there are rules society has laid down to resolve such, and that you may not ambush your adversary in such a manner, and what had this lady done to you at all, since you come from England?" Although she was of smallish stature the English woman drew up her head and stared him straight in the eye. "My name is Jane Eyre. You do not understand this matter at all. And I am no longer inclined to abide by men's rules."

Sammy

People are going to have to remember that this is the part of the review that is entirely of my own opinion and what I thought of the book, because what follows isn't entirely positive, but I hope it doesn't throw you off the book entirely and you still give it a chance. Now... my thoughts:I picked up this book upon the advice of Oprah (and her book club) and my friend Kit. They owe me hardcore now. As does Mr. Tolstoy. This book was an extremely long read, not because of it's size and length necessarily, but because of it's content. More often than not I found myself suddenly third a way down the page after my mind wandered off to other thoughts but I kept on reading... am I the only one with the ability to do that? You know, totally zoning out but continuing to read? The subject I passed over though was so thoroughly boring that I didn't bother going back to re-read it... and it didn't affect my understanding of future events taking place later on in the book.Leo Tolstoy really enjoys tangents. Constantly drifting away from the point of the book to go off on three page rants on farming methods, political policies and elections, or philosophical discussion on God. Even the dialogue drifted off in that sort of manner. Tolstoy constantly made detail of trifling matters, while important subjects that added to what little plot line this story had were just passed over. Here is a small passage that is a wonderful example of what constantly takes place throughout the book:"Kostia, look out! There's a bee! Won't he sting?" cried Dolly, defending herself from a wasp."That's not a bee; that's a wasp!" said Levin."Come, now! Give us your theory," demanded Katavasof, evidently provoking Levin to a discussion. "Why shouldn't private persons have that right?"No mention of the wasp is made again. Just a small example of how Tolstoy focuses much more on philosophical thought, and thought in general, more than any sort of action that will progress the story further. That's part of the reason the story took so long to get through.The editing and translation of the version I got also wasn't very good. Kit reckons that that's part of the reason I didn't enjoy it as much, and I am apt to agree with her. If you do decide to read this book, your better choice is to go with the Oprah's Book Club edition of Anna Karenina.The characters weren't too great either and I felt only slightly sympathetic for them at certain moments. The women most often were whiny and weak while the men seemed cruel and judgemental more often than not. Even Anna, who was supposedly strong-willed and intelligent would go off on these irrational rants. The women were constantly jealous and the men were always suspicious.There's not much else to say that I haven't already said. There were only certain spots in the book which I enjoyed in the littlest, and even then I can't remember them. All in all I did not enjoy this book, and it earned the names Anna Crapenina and Anna Kareniblah.But remember this is just one girl's opinion, if it sounded like a book you might enjoy I highly advise going out to read it. Just try and get the Oprah edition.

Caris

I don’t know what to think of Tolstoy. This is the first work of his I’ve ever read. After reading Dostoevsky, I am thoroughly intrigued by Russian literature. Tolstoy, however, is vastly different than Dostoevsky. It’s like he’s Dostoevsky’s happy older brother. There are similar aspects such as pride, depression, and madness, but Anna Karenina just wasn’t as dark.It may have been more beautifully written. By the first page, it was if I could breathe again. As if all of the contemporary fiction, all the Dan Browns of the world, had polluted the air and Leo Tolstoy stepped up and personally applied the oxygen mask to my face, stroked my hair, and told me everything was going to be alright. Anna Karenina, in my opinion, was written at a time when writing meant something. It wasn’t something one did on his/her days off at Starbucks. “Oh, I’m working on my novel.” S/he says, sipping a latte.Tolstoy didn’t so much write as craft from the clay of humanity. This is especially evident by the dialogue in this piece, which essentially drives the plot. The conversations in this book are unparalleled. They range in subject from farming to love to religion, and each is far more in depth and philosophical than any conversation I’ve ever had.There were a couple of things I wasn’t thrilled about in this book. It was very long for the relatively few significant plot details that took place. It was like taking a canoe on a meandering stream and coming to places where the water slows to a trickle and you have to get out to push your vessel along until the water gets deeper. That’s just the nature of the story, I guess, but it made for slow reading. It took me nearly a month to finish this one. Also, I don’t think Tolstoy has really considered women. His women think like men think women think. I’m reading some feminist writing at the moment, and I notice how male dominated every aspect of this book is. It isn’t that the concerns of the women in his book couldn’t be those of real women, it’s just that they’re stereotypical. When the women are being logical, they are thinking like the men in the story. This doesn’t surprise me entirely, considering Tolstoy’s tumultuous relationship with the other sex.All in all, it was a good book. Something of a commitment, but good nonetheless.

Keith

** spoiler alert ** I don't understand why Anna Karenina is considered a heroine. Her greatest hardship is that she's in a not totally fulfilling marriage and has a child to raise. Boo-hoo. She flat abandons her son. The extent of her remorse is never fully developed. I scoffed at her suicide, didn't empathize at all.I don't like Tolstoy much. Too verbose, grandiose. He's a silver spoon guy, which would be fine if he didn't try to write about the common man. These attempts make me embarrassed for him.He wrote a lot about late-19th century Russian class issues. He does this well I think. But in this book it doesn't add anything. Seems like he's just eager to write about it; it's thrown into the story haphazardly, in a way that doesn't advance the story.The book is not a masterpiece.

Brett

Alright, I'm going to do my best not to put any spoilers out here, but it will be kind of tough with this book. I should probably start by saying that this book was possibly the best thing I have ever read.It was my first Tolstoy to read, and the defining thing that separated what he wrote from anything else that I've read is his characters. His characters are unbelievably complex. The edition of this book that I read was over 900 pages, so he has some time to do it. His characters aren't static, but neither are they in some kind of transition from A to B throughout the book. They are each inconsistent in strikingly real ways. They think things and then change their minds. They believe something and then lose faith in it. Their opinions of each other are always swirling. They attempt to act in ways that align with something they want, but they must revert back to who they are. But who a character is is a function of many things, some innate and some external and some whimsical and moody.So all the characters seem too complex to be characters in a book. It's as if no one could write a character that could be so contradictory and incoherent and still make them believable, so no one would try to write a character like Anna Karenina. But people are that complex, and they are incoherent and that's what makes Tolstoy's characters so real. Their understandings of each other and themselves are as incoherent as mine of those around me and myself.One of the ways that Tolstoy achieves this is through incredible detail to non-verbal communication. He is always describing the characters movements, expressions, or postures in such a way that you subtly learn their thoughts. He does an amazing job in the internal monologues the characters experience. You frequently hear a character reason with himself and reveal his thoughts or who he is to you in some way, and all the while you feel like you already knew that they felt that or were that. Even as the characters are inconsistent. There are times when he can describe actions that have major implications on the plot with blunt and simple words and it still felt rich because the characters are so full. The book takes on love, marriage, adultery, faith, selfishness, death, desire/attraction, happiness. It also speaks interestingly on social classes or classism. He also addresses the clash between the pursuit of individual desires and social obligations/restraints. There is just so much to wrestle with here.And you go through a myriad set of emotions and impressions of the characters as you read. At times you can love or hate or adore a character. You can be ashamed of or ashamed for or reviled by or anxious with or surprised by a character. And you feel this way about each of them at points. But it isn't at all a roller coaster ride of emotion. It's fluid and natural and makes sense. One of the many points that the book seemed to reach to me was the strength and power of love. Tolstoy displays it in all its power and all its inability. In the end love is not sufficient enough to sustain. He writes tremendous triumphs for it, and then he writes the months after when the reality of human failings set in. But love is good, and there is hope. Life can be better with love in it. Should I have kids one day I think I'll make reading this book a precondition for them to start dating (that and turning 25).I was also surprised by a section towards the end of the book where Tolstoy through Levin, my favorite character and the one that I identified with the most, makes a case for Christianity that was so simple but at the same time really impacted me. I guess I'll leave that alone here.Basically, I don't have high enough praise for this book. I hope everyone reads it. It is very long, and I found the third quarter or so slow. But I could definitely read it again. Not soon but it could become a must read every 15 years or so for me. Between he nature of the content and the quality of the words, I would say that this is the greatest masterpiece in words that I've ever found.

Mark

Levin, Levin, Levin, you are a conceited monkey. Why you worry so much?? Is it because you think your problems are bigger than everyone else's? Is it because you don't have enough to fill your days? I would think planting and harvesting would be enough to make a guy dog-tired at night. Dog-tired enough that his infernal mind would shutty uppy for even half a page. Or is it because you think your problems are greater than others'? That you as landowner are the sole decider of everyone else's fate? Cause dude, your head is way way too big. You need to hold the air valve sideways (it's there, just behind your ear) and deflate that enormous ego you have. Just for giggles, lemme introduce you to Madam Karenina. Madam K's got some real problems. Yes, you might say, they are indeed first-world problems. She's not starving to death, dying in the street. But compared to you, buck, she's got problems. You might say, in your troublesome way, that Ms. Karenina brought her problems on herself. But would you concede that Ms. Karenina was trapped in a loveless marriage and who the hell wants to spend their life living in some kind of doldrums where nothing happens save slow, arduous stagnation? Oh yes, that's right, you're so full of yourself that you can't feel empathy for other people. That's right. Even though you made it abundantly clear over many an inner monologue, I forgot for a second. Maybe that's because you ramble so much I tended to tune you out. What's that? No, I don't think you cared about the peasants. In your arrogant way, I think you did believe that you cared about the peasants, but that's not the same thing. Would you agree? Of course you wouldn't. Well who asked you? Listen, Madam K. had some shit going on and it was far bigger than your shit. No, I don't care that yours was about the very fate of your everlasting soul. You're an ass so I don't care. Sue me. You didn't care about people so I don't care about your problems. Yeah, well as we say in the south, you can go butt a stump. No, wait, come back. I still have to tell you why Madam K's problems are so much bigger than yours. You like discussing philosophical issues right? Don't lie, I know you do. I listened to you try to argue them for half a book. Now sit down. I'll call your brother. You know Sergei could outwit you, hell, even Nicholai could outwit you on almost every (heck, every) occasion! What's Madam K's problem? Don't act like you don't know. You spent half the book avoiding her because you were so hung up about whether or not your wife actually loved you. You know what her problem is. Yes I know you were based on Tolstoy himself. I wasn't sure of that until my buddy Mary told me, but I had an inkling from all the farming you did. No, I don't think you expressed yourself as well as Tolstoy. Tolstoy, while making a boneheaded decision to give you spotlight status, is still a brilliant writer whose syntax, scenes, characters (yes, even you) all came to life before my very eyes. The man knew classes, both the poor and the aristocratic. You would do well to emulate him. Yes, I realize that's what you were trying to do. But what era? Were you Tolstoy in his 20s, 30s, maybe his 50s? Yes, I know you're 34 but I'm saying mentally, where are you? Well, to me you're a child. You fuss and whine and worry and kick a stone along the road and convince yourself that you're right about everything and everyone knows you're not. We all know it. Yes, even Kitty knows it. Kitty's a helluva lot smarter than you, btw. I just wanted you to know that. Look, can I take a break? You're wearing me out. I'm going to get some lunch. We'll continue this in a bit ---Good lunch? Really? What'd you do then? Will you ever stop thinking? You'll drive yourself nuts. You really will. Have you read Salinger? Oh yeah, after your time. Right. Look, I ran into a buddy while I was out. Levin, this is my buddy, Mr. T Yes, like the letter T. "I pity da foo dat don't read dis cause it too long, foo." Mr. T enjoyed the book, Levin. He has a bit of a bone to pick with you. But he loved the writing. "I pity da foo dat don't like dis book, foo." See, what'd I tell ya? He loves it. Sit down, Mr. T. I was talking to Levin before - about what a self-righteous twit he is - and was going to ask him what he thought of Madam K's...predicament. "I pity da foo dat don't pity Madam K, foo." That's right. See, Levin, Mr. T and I have the same bone to pick so he thought he would come along, hang out, throw in his two cents if the mood struck. "I pity da foo dat don't got two cents, foo." But while I was out, I did find something that was sorta of positive about you, Levin. You won't know it since it's after your time, but all the existential writers who dabbled in fiction, there was quite a bit of your influence in them I think. They turned the pen inward upon themselves and pondered life's great questions - much like you did. But the thing was, Levin, they did it so much better than you and they thoroughly convinced me why I should care about what they were thinking. Did you know Ivan Ilyich? Just in name? Oh, okay. You don't know much about him? Tolstoy wrote about his death several years after writing about you, so I thought you may've heard of him. You and Ivan, I think you would have gotten along splendidly. Ivan was a confused guy too. While I appreciated his pondering - to an extent - I don't feel his pondering was sound. It felt forced. And I gotta tell ya, his was easier to digest because he shut the fuck up sometimes, you know? "I pity da foo dat don't know when to shut the fudge up, foo." So. Anna, then? You what? Want a second? What, like in a duel? We're just talking. Yes, but Mr. T is only interjecting a little bit. He's - I know he has big muscles. That's not why I brought him. He's not going to hurt you. Alright, alright, who do you want? Vronsky!? That's the last person I figured you to pick. Maybe you're wilier than I thought. Ha, yeah, I know he can take a hit. But still, you guys will be a pair ---Well if it isn't Vronsky. Man, I've got some words for you too, bucko. "I pity da foo dat don't calm down, foo." Okay, okay. See, he's here as much to calm me down as to -- never mind. Look Vronsky, what you did. The way you were. Well, you and Levin are more alike than you know. I see why Kitty... Do you see how Anna was put upon!? Why didn't you see how hard it was for her!? "I said, I pity da foo dat don't calm down, foo." Okay, okay. But didn't you see what you were doing to her? Oh yeah, wine and roses in the beginning. But isn't it always? Did you not see how hard her position was, though? She had a son, Vronsky. Don't you think that began to creep up on her? What she gave up for you? I don't even want to think about the kind of therapy her children will need. Yes, Karenin was a dick, too. Big ole lopsided dick. Needed Houdini to travel back in time to debunk all that trance shit. That was hilarious to Tolstoy to throw in, though. I do give him high marks for that. Great scene. Great writing. But you!! Gallivanting off to your men's club every chance you got, 'A man needs to be social,' you said, something like that, and Anna couldn't even go to a concert without an uproar. A simple concert! Yes, I know, society's as much to blame. But are you not a member of society? And you're a Count. Your words, as a 'man' would mean something. You could have said, "We're trying to procure a divorce but Karenin The Dick won't let us have one because he's got his own pettiness to deal with under the guise of a religious fervor." But nooo, you were too busy looking after Vronsky, what Vronsky needs. And and Levin - yes, we're back to you, again - are so much alike. Me, me, me. Mr. T, I'm sorry but I really wanna hurt the both of them. Like really really bad. Both of these assholes had good women and neither of them treated them fairly - shut the fuck up, Levin, you were an asshole to the end. "Foo?" We have to beat some sense into them, Mr. T. It's the only way they'll understand anything. They were too good to sully themselves for the ones they professed to love. It's the only way. On three. Ready? One. Two. Three. Urmph. Good one, Mr. T! Ugh. Zow. "I pity da foo dat don't know when to quit, foo!" Ping. Snap. "Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo-choo?" Boing.Sprung. "Damn, man, like getting run over by a freight train...ughrmm. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha." Woosh.Yeeeeeee. Wait, wait, hang on. Wait. Stop. Let's just stop a minute. Don't get me wrong, it feels fan-friggin-tastic to wail on you guys. But I'm gotta stop a minute and duff my cap to Mr. Tolstoy again for creating such realistic characters for me to grapple with, to love, to loathe, to live with for the last several months. Mr. T, watch out for Vronsky. He's liable to sucker punch while I do my monologue. Oh harsh you trap, Levin, you got center stage for at least 400 pages. Mr. Tolstoy, I think you are a terrific writer, and though I didn't always agree with your characters - especially the autobiographical one - you are one kickass writer. It was a pleasure just to read your sentences. It would be awesome to be able to speak to you in person, to pick your brain. "I pity da foo dat don't open his eyes, foo." What, Mr. T? "I pity da foo dat don't know what T stand for, foo." What are you saying, Mr. T?? "Look, do I have to spell it out, fool? T. Tolstoy. Duh." Say what? "Reincarnation, man. Ever heard of it?" Uh. Yeah. "So, you liked the book?" Uh. Yeah. "Why are you lookin at me that way, foo?" I'm sorry, it's just a lot to wrap my head around. All this time...? "Yeah, foo." Mr. T---olstoy? Count? "Whatta ya say, foo, you feel like an ice cream?" Uh. Yeah. Erm, you guys wanna come? Urmph. "I'll clean dem up later." Uh. Okay. "So you didn't like Levin, huh?" ...

Dia

What turned out to be the most interesting to me as I devoured this lush book was Tolstoy's amazing ability to show how we change our minds, or how our minds just do change -- how enamored we become of a person, a place, a whole population, an idea, an ideal -- and then how that great love, which seemed so utterly meaningful and complete, sours or evaporates just days, hours, or even minutes later -- in short, how truly fickle we are. And at the same time, each of the characters was in some way stable -- they had their particular drives, their needs, their anxieties, which gave their changing passions some kind of coherence and thus gave themselves their "selves." Tolstoy's ability to capture the tiny thoughts that the characters themselves were perhaps unaware of -- preconscious material consisting largely of rationalizations and fears, but also sometimes of genuine compassion -- and to present these thoughts with precision, subtle irony, and tenderness -- was a great delight. (He deals in this preconscious material rather than in unconscious material -- there is nothing symbolic or metaphorical in his writing -- he writes quite naturally of "things as they are." My partner and I enjoyed contrasting him with Kafka.) I also am very glad that I read an unabridged version. Some of my favorite parts of the book didn't involve the title character -- I loved the mowing and hunting sections -- these were the parts where true joy (and meaning, as Levin finds) were found. And I think these are the parts not included in abridged versions.

Emily May

This is a book that I was actually dreading reading for quite some time. It was on a list of books that I'd been working my way through and, after seeing the size of it and the fact that 'War And Peace' was voted #1 book to avoid reading, I was reluctant to ever get started. But am I glad that I did.This is a surprisingly fast-moving, interesting and easy to read novel. The last of which I'd of never believed could be true before reading it, but you find yourself instantly engrossed in this kind of Russian soap opera, filled with weird and intriguing characters. The most notable theme is the way society overlooked mens' affairs but frowned on womens', this immediately created a bond between myself and Anna, who is an extremely likeable character. I thought it had an amazing balance of important meaning and light-heartedness. Let's just say, it's given me some courage to maybe one day try out the dreaded 'War And Peace'.

Terry

In the beginning, reading Anna Karenin can feel a little like visiting Paris for the first time. You’ve heard a lot about the place before you go. Much of what you see from the bus you recognize from pictures and movies and books. You can’t help but think of the great writers and artists who have been here before you. You expect to like it. You want to like it. But you don’t want to feel like you have to like it. You worry a little that you won’t. But after a few days, you settle in, and you feel the immensity of the place opening up all around you. You keep having this experience of turning a corner and finding something beautiful that you hadn’t been told to expect or catching sight of something familiar from a surprising angle. You start to trust the abundance of the place, and your anxieties that someone else will have eaten everything up before your arrival relax. (Maybe that simile reveals more about me than I’d like.)My favorite discovery was the three or four chapters (out of the book’s 239) devoted to, of all things, scythe mowing—chapters that become a celebratory meditation on physical labor. When I read those chapters, I felt temporarily cured of the need to have something “happen” and became as absorbed in the reading as the mowers are absorbed in their work. Of course, the book is about Anna and Vronsky and Levin and Kitty and Dolly and poor, stupid Stepan Arkadyich. It’s about their love and courtship and friendship and pride and shame and jealousy and betrayal and forgiveness and about the instable variety of happiness and unhappiness. But it’s also about mowing the grass and arguing politics and hunting and working as a bureaucrat and raising children and dealing politely with tedious company. To put it more accurately, it’s about the way that the human mind—or, as Tolstoy sometimes says, the human soul—engages each of these experiences and tries to understand itself, the world around it, and the other souls that inhabit that world. This book is not afraid to take up any part of human life because it believes that human beings are infinitely interesting and infinitely worthy of compassion. And, what I found stirring, the book’s fearlessness extends to matters of religion. Tolstoy takes his characters seriously enough to acknowledge that they have spiritual lives that are as nuanced and mysterious as their intellectual lives and their romantic lives. I knew to expect this dimension of the book, but I could not have known how encouraging it would be to dwell in it for so long.In the end, this is a book about life, written by a man who is profoundly in love with life. Reading it makes me want to live.

Brad

** spoiler alert ** WARNING: This is not a strict book review, but rather a meta-review of what reading this book led to in my life. Please avoid reading this if you're looking for an in depth analysis of Anna Karenina. Thanks. I should also mention that there is a big spoiler in here, in case you've remained untouched by cultural osmosis, but you should read my review anyway to save yourself the trouble.I grew up believing, like most of us, that burning books was something Nazis did (though, of course, burning Disco records at Shea stadium was perfectly fine). I believed that burning books was only a couple of steps down from burning people in ovens, or that it was, at least, a step towards holocaust.If I heard the words "burning books" or "book burning," I saw Gestapo, SS and SA marching around a mountainous bonfire of books in a menacingly lit square. It's a scary image: an image of censorship, of fear mongering, of mind control -- an image of evil. So I never imagined that I would become a book burner. That all changed the day Anna Karenina, that insufferable, whiny, pathetic, pain in the ass, finally jumped off the platform and killed herself. That summer I was performing in Shakespeare in the Mountains, and I knew I'd have plenty of down time, so it was a perfect summer to read another 1,000 page+ novel. I'd read Count of Monte Cristo one summer when I was working day camps, Les Miserable one summer when I was working at a residential camp, and Shogun in one of my final summers of zero responsibility. A summer shifting back and forth between Marc Antony in Julius Caesar and Pinch, Antonio and the Nun (which I played with great gusto, impersonating Terry Jones in drag) in Comedy of Errors, or sitting at a pub in the mountains while I waited for the matinee to give way to the evening show, seemed an ideal time to blaze through a big meaty classic. I narrowed the field to two by Tolstoy: War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I chose the latter and was very quickly sorry I did.I have never met such an unlikable bunch of bunsholes in my life (m'kay...I admit it...I am applying Mr. Mackey's lesson. You should see how much money I've put in the vulgarity jar this past week). Seriously. I loathed them all and couldn't give a damn about their problems. By the end of the first part I was longing for Anna to kill herself (I'd known the ending since I was a kid, and if you didn't and I spoiled it for you, sorry. But how could you not know before now?). I wanted horrible things to happen to everyone. I wanted Vronsky to die when his horse breaks its back. I wanted everyone else to die of consumption like Nikolai. And then I started thinking of how much fun it would be to rewrite this book with a mad Stalin cleansing the whole bunch of them and sending them to a Gulag (in fact, this book is the ultimate excuse for the October Revolution (though I am not comparing Stalinism to Bolshevism). If I'd lived as a serf amongst this pack of idiots I'd have supported the Bolshies without a second thought).I found the book excruciating, but I was locked in my life long need to finish ANY book I started. It was a compulsion I had never been able to break, and I had the time for it that summer. I spent three months in the presence of powerful and/or fun Shakespeare plays and contrasted those with a soul suckingly unenjoyable Tolstoy novel, and then I couldn't escape because of my own head. I told myself many things to get through it all: "I am missing the point," "Something's missing in translation," "I'm in the wrong head space," "I shouldn't have read it while I was living and breathing Shakespeare," "It will get better." It never did. Not for me. I hated every m'kaying page. Then near the end of the summer, while I was sitting in the tent a couple of hours from the matinee (I remember it was Comedy of Errors because I was there early to set up the puppet theatre), I finally had the momentary joy of Anna's suicide. Ecstasy! She was gone. And I was almost free. But then I wasn't free because I still had the final part of the novel to read, and I needed to get ready for the show, then after the show I was heading out to claim a campsite for an overnight before coming back for an evening show of Caesar. I was worried I wouldn't have time to finish that day, but I read pages whenever I found a free moment and it was looking good. Come twilight, I was through with the shows and back at camp with Erika and my little cousin Shaina. The fire was innocently crackling, Erika was making hot dogs with Shaina, so I retreated to the tent and pushed through the rest of the book. When it was over, I emerged full of anger and bile and tossed the book onto the picnic table with disgust. I sat in front of the fire, eating my hot dogs and drinking beer, and that's when the fire stopped being innocent. I knew I needed to burn this book. I couldn't do it at first. I had to talk myself into it, and I don't think I could have done it at all if Erika hadn't supported the decision. She'd lived through all of my complaining, though, and knew how much I hated the book (and I am pretty sure she hated listening to my complaints almost as much). So I looked at the book and the fire. I ate marshmallows and spewed my disdain. I sang Beatles songs, then went back to my rage, and finally I just stood up and said "M'kay it!"I tossed it into the flames and watched that brick of a book slowly twist and char and begin to float into the night sky. The fire around the book blazed high for a good ten minutes, the first minute of which was colored by the inks of the cover, then it tumbled off its prop log and into the heart of the coals, disappearing forever. I cheered and danced and exorcised that book from my system. I felt better. I was cleansed of my communion with those whiny Russians. And I vowed in that moment to never again allow myself to get locked into a book I couldn't stand; it's still hard, but I have put a few aside.Since the burning of Anna Karenina there have been a few books that have followed it into the flames. Some because I loved them and wanted to give them an appropriate pyre, some because I loathed them and wanted to condemn them to the fire. I don't see Nazis marching around the flames anymore either. I see a clear mountain night, I taste bad wine and hot dogs, I hear wind forty feet up in the tops of the trees, I smell the chemical pong of toxic ink, and I feel the relief of never having to see Anna Karenina on my bookshelf again. Whew. I feel much better now.

Kat

Yesterday I finished this book. I started it in early July, 2006 and never put it down for more than, oh, a month at a time.Infuriatingly boring. The last 25 pages are a philosophical essay cloaked in fiction. (i.e., "What if," the character thought, "such and such and such a [whole-page paragraph]? That would mean that the meaning of life is [...]!") I can't think of any reason Tolstoy would have stuck this at the end of an 800+-page book unless A) he was worried that the previous 776 pages didn't convey his purpose (I think this is true), and/or B) he realized his ideas were too half-assed to warrant a straightforward essay. (We suffer because we think too much, and studying science will inevitably make us want to kill ourselves, so we should just believe in God even though belief in God doesn't make any sense? I need more than a novel to convince me.)Tolstoy succeeds at "realism," inasmuch as he makes up so many details that it's easy to forget that he's making things up instead of describing a photograph. I will give him that. But from my historical position, when "realism" is not bold and new, the book only strikes me as a swollen, insufferable narrative. I don't see why he couldn't have accomplished everything he accomplished in a book one-quarter the size. If you've already read the book and want to talk about the ideas or the character arcs, I would be vaguely interested in such a conversation. But I can't think of anyone I know to whom I would recommend an investment of time in this book. I am satisfied that I read the whole thing only because it is a testimony to my stubbornness.

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