Anna Karenina

ISBN: 0143035002
ISBN 13: 9780143035008
By: Leo Tolstoy Richard Pevear Larissa Volokhonsky

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

About this book

The must-have Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of one of the greatest Russian novels ever written, soon to be a film adapted by Tom Stoppard and starring Kiera Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, and Emily Watson Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.             While previous versions have softened the robust, and sometimes shocking, quality of Tolstoy's writing, Pevear and Volokhonsky  have produced a translation true to his powerful voice. This authoritative edition, which received the PEN Translation Prize and was an Oprah Book Club™ selection, also includes an illuminating introduction and explanatory notes. Beautiful, vigorous, and eminently readable, this Anna Karenina will be the definitive text for fans of the film and generations to come.

Reader's Thoughts

Mohamed Galal

-- بداية قراءاتي في الأدب الروسيّ بشكل عام ، ول"تولستوي " بشكل خاص .-- رواية خلّدت تولستوي اجتماعيًا وإنسانيًا ، وتخطّت شهرته بها حدود روسيا الشاسعة إلى أطراف العالم كلّه .-- حزنت على التعليم المصري أنّ رواية مثل هذه تدرّس للصف الأوّل الثانوي في لبنان منذ عام 1998 ، لماذا لا نُعامل بالمثل ؟! -- بداية أنصح كل من لم يقرأها أن يبتعد تمامًا عن نسخة " مكتبة الأسرة " ، مختصرة جدًا ، والترجمة سيّئة ، لاحظت أنّ أغلب الروايات الأجنبيّة المترجمة من قبل نفس الهيئة ترجمتها ليست جيّدة وتضيّع قيمة العمل الأدبيّ ، فلا يصحّ الحكم على الكاتب بمثل تلك النسخ .-- قرأتها بنسخة دار الجيل _ بيروت . -- ندخل لصميم الرواية : ويحَك يا تولستوي : ماذا فعلت بي أيّها الدبُّ الروسيّ ؟! -- كم كلتُ من اتّهاماتٍ وسبٍّ ولعنٍ وقذفٍ للأبطال طول أحداث الرواية !-- لا أتذكّر أنّي كنتُ سافلًا في ألفاظي وانفعالاتي تجاه تصرّفات الأبطال كما كنتُ في هذه الرواية ، عذرًا فلم أجد بدًا لغير ذلك .-- أعجبني جدًا ردُّ فعل " فاريا " زوجة أخ " فرونسكي " تجاه طلب الأخير استقبالها ل" أنّا " في منزلها ، تنفسّت الصُعَدَاء ، أخيرًا وجدتُ من عنده الشجاعة الأدبيّة ليواجه الآخر بحقيقته !-- تعليقي على الشخصيّات : -- " فرونسكي " : نبيل وسيم ، محب لذاته إلى أقصى حد ، معتدٌ بنفسه جدًا ، يهوى اختطاف الأشياء من الغير ، ولا يرى أيّ غضاضة في ذلك ، متعته في تملّك الأشياء . -- " أليكسيس كارينين " : زوج مغلوب على أمره ، ليس قادرًا على استثارة زوجته ، بمنتهى البساطة لأنّها زوجته ، لا توجد إثارة مثل تلك التي توجد في تجاوز الخطوط الحمراء ، ما زالا في البقعة الخضراء الروتينيّة الفاترة .-- أنّا : شخصيّة مرحة ، شيطان في ثوب ملاك ، لبقة جدًا في الحديث ، امرأة لا قلب لها ولا شرف ولا دين ، تفعل الخطأ ، وتقنع نفسها بأحقيّتها في ما فعلت ، ولا حقّ لأحد في لومها ، مراجعتها ، أو إشعارها بالذنب ، بارعة في اللفّ والدوران ، بارعة في النفاق ، لا تحاسب نفسها ، فمن يراها دائمًا يجدها رائقة البال ، محمرّة الوجنتين ، لامعة العينين ،بارعة في إظهار ما لا تبطن ، مثل كثير من النساء ترى أنّها حُرمت من لذّة وإثارة التجربة ، وزُوّجت في سن مبكّرة ، فتنازعها أهواؤها بعد الزواج بسنين قليلة إلى تعويض ما فات .-- لم تنتابني أيُّ مشاعرِ شفقة أو رأفة ب" أنّا " ، فقعر الجحيم خُلقَ لمثلها من النساء ! -- كارينين : محافظٌ جدًا على عمله ، على هدوئه ، ومهتمٌ جدًا بالمظاهر الاجتماعيّة ، وهي " أنّا " زوجةٌ مجنونة مرحة ، تهوى من كان مجنونًا ومرحًا مثلها ، ليشاركها تصوّراتها ومغامراتها ليرضيَ شهواتِها الفاجرة . -- " أنّا " مثل كثيرٍ من النساء ، لا تنظر إلّا إلى نفسها ، تقنع نفسها أنّها محور العالم ، وتنتظر من كل المحيطين أنّ يكونوا خدمًا تحت قدميْها . -- وفي هذا القدر الكفاية ، فالحديث يبدو بلا نهاية !

Litchick (is stuck in the 19th century)


** spoiler alert ** I finished this last night, but didn't write a review then because I needed some time to think over the entire book and decide exactly what I wanted to say about it. I'm going to start with a quick plot summary, because before I read this I didn't really know what Anna Karenina was actually about. So, in brief: Oblonsky has cheated on his wife Dolly but he convinces his sister Anna to talk to her and they don't get divorced; meanwhile Oblonsky's friend Levin is in love with Dolly's sister Kitty but she wants to marry Vronsky who is in love with Anna who is already married to Karenin but goes ahead and has an affair with Vronsky anyway so he rejects Kitty but it's okay because she marries Levin anyway and Levin has these two brothers and one is a drug addict and the other is a stuffy author and they don't do much but they're around a lot and then Anna leaves her husband but he won't give her a divorce and won't let her keep their son so she's very depressed about that and Dolly is the only one who will talk to her even though Oblonsky also works hard to convince Karenin to divorce Anna. Everyone got that? It really could not be simpler. Okay, on to the review part: I'm giving this book three stars because it seemed like the fairest rating, considering that some parts of this book deserved a five-star rating and some parts deserved one star. Everything with Anna and Vronsky was really interesting and amazing - I loved Anna so much, and I really wanted to be friends with her. She was lovely. Unfortunately, she and her lovah had to compete with Kitty and Levin, the other important couple of the story. And good god are they boring. Levin owns a farm, which means we get chapters upon chapters of nothing but him babbling on about farming techniques and how nobody does the job right and what he wants to do to improve his farm. Also, the book should have ended right after Anna killed herself, or at least ended by talking about how Vronsky was dealing with it. But that doesn't happen. In the last thirty-some pages of the book, Anna throws herself under a train, and for the rest of the book we get a little mention of how Vronsky has volunteered to fight in some war, but the rest of it is all about Levin and his farm and local politics and his spiritual crisis and OH MY GOD I DON'T CARE. Once I had read two chapters about Levin after Anna's death, I flipped through the rest of the book, saw that he was the sole focus of the rest of the story, and almost stopped reading. I could have, too, and I wouldn't have missed anything important.


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.


One of the best novels I've ever read. There was only one part that dragged a bit for me--the account of the provincial election in part 6. I rather loved the detailed descriptions--especially Tolstoy's habit of describing the little idiosyncrasies for each character. I love that each character was allowed to grow and change from the beginning to the end of the book, the book more than any other I've read flows like real life--the characters react and grow make decisions and change with what is happening and not vice-versa. Because of it's length, you get to see what sometimes other books don't show--that the Earth doesn't cease to keep spinning because of someone's actions. And Tolstoy allows us to see what happens when "life goes on" after choices are made.The prose was beautiful, especially Levin's insight and reflections (not that I think I comprehended all of his philosophical musings). In fact, I think I loved Levin's story even more than Anna's--though to compare their stories is compelling. As I was reading about 3-400 pages in, I started wishing I had begun with a pencil in hand to underline particularly beautiful or insightful passages. I told myself I would next time--and for me if I already have plans to read it again before I'm through the first time that means it's a pretty fabulous book.


For the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament, Jane Eyre (5) versus Anna Karenina (12)[sequel to this review]I have already recounted the events of the ball. When I returned to England, there was a missive waiting for me. Somehow I knew, even before I opened it, that the contents were nothing I wished to read; that, if I had the smallest good sense, I would throw it on the fire and be done with it. But my hands, moving, it seemed to me, of their own accord, carefully slit open the envelope, which contained a letter and a thick manuscript. I watched my fingers unfold the letter. Here, without further ado, is what it said.The rest of this review is in my book If Research Were Romance and Other Implausible Conjectures


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.


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.


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.


Well, I finished it. Not sure what to say.This is one of those books whose image in my mind is so distorted by its reputation for Greatness that it's impossible for me to evaluate it on its own terms. I think I liked it, but a voice nags at me: would any of that positivity remain if it had been unceremoniously plopped onto my desk with no context, without endorsements like this one? I finished the book and nodded: "yes, that was good. Four stars on Goodreads, let's say." But what I was nodding assent to was the mass of praise the reputable have heaped upon this Greatest of Great Novels, and this Greatest of Great Authors. Whatever admiration or affection I hold for the book, I'm not sure it would be enough for me to stand on its side of the fence if everyone else in the world weren't already standing there.One of the reasons I like long novels is that I get increasing returns from spending time in a fictional world. The longer I spend with a set of characters and with an author's style, the more sense of reality (or bewitching unreality) they take on. I see every new page in a slightly new context, and by the end of a good, long book the wealth of context is enough to make every writerly gesture, no matter how small, seem interesting by virtue of its interaction with its background. My experience with Anna Karenina certainly benefitted from this effect. Initially I wasn't impressed at all. Halfway through the book, the characters finally begin to feel alive; by the end even Tolstoy's descriptions of the most minute experiences began to seem profound, sitting as they were on top of so much understated and carefully chosen detail. It would be easy to chalk this feeling up to Tolstoy's "mastery of the realistic novel" or something. But it's hard for me to tell whether this book really did anything special or whether it simply profited from its length the way any competently produced 800-page novel would. (That is, it's hard for me to tell whether I like Tolstoy or whether I just like long novels.)I comfortably tell myself that Tolstoy was surpassingly skilled at characterization and that the eventual intensity of my engagement with his characters reflects this . . . then I remember that while reading Anna K., my mind would often drift to the characters of Community, a sitcom I was watching my way through at the time. Well, Community is certainly not a Great Work, and its characterization certainly displays no great subtlety. But if my own engagement with Tolstoy's characters means nothing about their Greatness (since I can readily engage with all sorts of non-Great things), what should I point to as evidence for that Greatness, if it exists? Tolstoy's characters have a certain reality to them, it's true. But I am neither sure that this sense of reality is valuable nor that it is not, in the end, an illusion. (Maybe Realism is not for me.)Now -- about translation. Something about translations has always startled me: they all sound awful. I don't know if other people actually don't feel this way or whether they just consider it too obvious to mention, but in any case it confuses me how little this is brought up. With a few exceptions (Rabassa's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nabokov's translations of his own stuff), the translations I've read have read terribly: stilted, awkward, graceless, witless, limited in vocabulary . . . The obvious response here is that translations shouldn't be read as though they were English-language originals; the awkwardness is simply the result of the fact that the conventions of foreign literature don't map directly on the conventions of English literature (or of the English language itself) -- and if you aren't interested in foreign conventions, what are you doing reading foreign literature? A fair point, but without intimate knowledge of the conventional context -- knowledge that a foreign reader is unlikely to have, or to ever obtain -- one misses something enormous when one reads these alien forms, namely, how their sound/feel/functioning compares to that of their peers.Having read this big, imposing matte black object on my desk which has the word "Tolstoy" on it but which is not in Tolstoy's language, I can try if I want to speak about "Tolstoy's style" . . . but I know that all the information I have about Tolstoy's style comes not from reading Tolstoy, but from reading this very odd, very clumsily written English novel on my desk, whose selling point is its ostensible resemblance to Tolstoy's Great Novel Anna Karenina. I have no sense of how Tolstoy really sounds to a Russian reader, what sorts of special things he does with their language that they can't get anywhere else (he must do such things, since after all, he is a Great Writer), any more than a reader of Shakespeare in translation can grasp the special feeling a modern English speaker gets when they read this author whose work changed their language forever.The object on my desk is the celebrated, omni-approved Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which I have to imagine is at least less bad than the alternatives. But I start to wonder when I look at the blurbs:At last, a version of Tolstoy's great novel that is neither musty, nor overly modernized, nor primly recast as a Victorian landscape. . . . a pellucid Anna Karenina that speaks (as Tolstoy himeslf wished to speak) from within its own time, but for all times.The ideal seems to be the sort of timelessness that results from lack of identification with any particular strain or era of English literature: it is neither "musty" nor "overly modernized" nor "primly recast as a Victorian landscape," and so forth, and after all these possibilities are rejected we are left with something "timeless" but also faceless and contextless, something that gives us no clues about how it is supposed to sound. (At least a "prim Victorian landscape" feels prim, which is something definite; P&V's Tolstoy is not prim because it is not quite anything.) Perhaps this is the right way to capture a foreign literature that does not map exactly onto English literature, but the costs are great. Once every coloration made possible by English literature has been removed, the result is not something recognizably foreign but simply something colorless; where it should be dressed in exotic clothing, the writing is simply naked. (I have been wondering, though, whether this "nakedness" isn't just the way 19th century literature as a whole seems to someone like me who's not used to it. But I doubt it. Having finished Anna K., I've just started Middlemarch, and the difference in variety, expressiveness, and particularity of language is remarkable.)This review has been almost entirely negative, which is not an accurate reflection of my experience with the book. I enjoyed it -- we had some good times together -- but I feel mostly unable to talk about my enjoyment, because I'm not sure how much of it can be separated from the book's reputation. Everything I could say would fall, with eerie exactitude, within the bounds established by all of the "Tolstoy is a Great Novelist" paeans that already exist, and I can't say with any confidence that I would be writing such a paean if I had never read one.

Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont

I first read Anna Karenina when I was in my mid-teens. I remember being deeply moved by the story of Anna and her doomed love but I missed a lot of Tolstoy’s subtlety. I say this because I have now reread this magnificent book in the light of the recent film adaptation with Keira Knightley in the role of Anna.In my review of the movie I described the novel as a War and Peace of the emotions. But it’s actually much more than that. Though it is more intimate in an emotional sense than War and Peace Tolstoy also manages to capture the sweep and grandeur of a particular period in Russian history. It’s an effortless shifting of focus really, from interior feelings at one point to exterior settings at another, inside and outside captured with almost perfect comprehension.The novel opens with arguably one of the most recognised lines in all of world literature;All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.On my first reading I thought this was a reference to Anna and her own relationships, first with her husband, Alexis Karenin, a man she clearly does not love, a man she never loved, and then with Count Alexis Vronsky, the great passion of her life, a man she loved too much. But it’s not. In the immediate sense it’s a reference to the marriage of her philandering brother, Stiva Oblonsky, and Dolly, his much suffering wife. Beyond that it really touches on a variety of relationships. It touches, in a deeper sense, on a larger family, that of the Russian aristocracy, on the threshold of a precipitous decline.The title is deceptive. Much of the novel does indeed focus on the tragedy of Anna but not in an exclusive sense. It might just as well have been called Portraits of Marriage; for marriage and relationships is what it’s all about. Not all unhappy, I should add. For in counterpoint to the story of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky we have that of Kitty, Dolly’s sister, and Constantine Levin. This, as it turns out, is the novel’s one happy family, resembling no other. The idealistic and occasionally tiresome Levin is an obvious self-portrait of Tolstoy himself. I say tiresome because the author allows him to become a vehicle for his own economic, political and spiritual obsessions, which buzz at points as annoyingly as the bees Levin keeps on his country estate! For me the fascinating thing about Anna Karenina is just how well it captures a particular social milieu and a particular period in Russian history. I offer another possible title – Decline and Fall. There is pathology here, something symptomatic almost. At one extreme we have the insouciant Oblonsky, thoughtless and shallow, a scion of an ancient family in terminal decline. At the other we have Levin, a country gentleman who dreams of a communion with the peasantry, while always being apart from the peasantry. In the middle we have Anna, passionate, transient and destructive, a force of nature. On the outside we have the peasantry, looking on with incomprehension and bemused contempt. It’s often said that Anna Karenina is the greatest novel ever written. Greatness, it seems to me, is such and elusive and uncertain measure. There are serious flaws in the book which, at least to me, would seem to stop it somewhere short of ‘greatness’, at least understood as perfection. But there is something greater than greatness; there is brilliance. Anna Karenina is a brilliant book, one with breathtaking insight, a handling of character and theme that shows one to be in the presence of a true master of the art. Tolstoy’s understanding of human nature is as broad as it is deep. Although the novel has a third person grand narrative style, the focus changes with the mood, moving from a God-like perspective to interior consciousness with equal ease. Even Laska, Levin’s dog, is allowed a perspective at one point in the narrative! Tolstoy’s descriptive power is as grand as it is in War and Peace, though the richness of his country scenes stands in sharp contrast to the anonymity of his urban settings. Anna Karenina is a novel of consequences. In some ways it’s similar in handling to War and Peace, in that the author clearly believes that each individual destiny is shaped by forces that cannot be controlled. Anna is the novel’s boldest character, one who defies convention, choosing love over propriety. That is the beginning of her tragedy. I suppose it is possible to say that Vronsky also places love, the love of another man’s wife, before propriety, but for him the choice does not carry the same burden, a measure of social hypocrisy, perhaps, though the judgements here are our own, not Tolstoy’s. His task is simply to show the limits of freedom and the penalties of choice. The penalties for Anna are high. Unable to divorce, she grows increasingly uncertain of herself, increasingly insecure in her relationship with Vronsky, who can, after all, discard her in a moment and marry another, as his mother clearly wishes. Anna’s passionate nature turns in on itself, driven to destruction by recrimination, doubt and paranoia. Her story resembles no other in its unhappiness. It ends in a station; it ends in suicide under a train. Is there any happiness to be found here? Well, as I say, to contrast with the dark there is the light of Kitty and Levin. If Oblonsky represents shallow and cosmopolitan urban values, Levin – Tolstoy himself – seeks roots in the land, roots in ‘the people’, something of an idealised and unreflective giant. He finds contentment with Kitty and meaning in life, including spiritual meaning…at least up to a point. Tolstoy admired the work of Charles Dickens. But the thing about Dickens’ novels is that they all have one conclusion – the end of history. One feels that the action is done. All that remains is an endless summer of happy families, big meals and blessed death. Not so with Anna Karenina. Levin is a doubter; his quest is not over, his happiness less than complete. His is a story that is also destined to end in a station, the story of Tolstoy’s own future.


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.


** 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.


“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” One of the most famous lines in the history of literature. A phrase that sets the tone for the events that unfolds in this massive tome from one of Russian’s most famous novelist, Leo Tolstoy. This author is mostly famous for his double fisted pair of epics which feature a panoramic view of 19th century Russian society. This book, Anna Karenina rests in one hand as a tragic love story whereas the other complex war epic, War and Peace. Both of these books have become household names in the world of classic fiction. Both have experienced a reputation of being both equally loved and feared by those readers who have braved the 1000 pages and the long term investment that each of these novels demand. Anna Karenina is the first of Tolstoy’s novels that I have read. Although the main plot is fairly simple, it is one of the most complex novels I have ever read in terms of characterization and morality. The book is a quintessential example of realism in literature so the true strength lies in the complexity of its characters and its themes. Anna Karenina discussed many themes such as love, marriage, jealousy, infidelity, economics, art, and politics. It really is all there. It leaves very few areas untouched. I believe many themes are still relevant in today’s society. It really presents an interesting study of the challenges of being human. The plot follows the personal life of two families. One is in the early stages of creation; the other is on the verge of destruction. Both are inter-twined and both are presented with the same problems. Like the characters in this novel, one of the most important goals in anyone’s life is to achieve happiness. The definition of happiness varies from person to person. However, in many people’s lives happiness is something ambiguous. Many people do now know what makes them happy. Many believe that money, love, power, or a healthy family are the ingredients that bring them a sense of happiness. However, when some of these goals are achieved, a person may still feel as if they have not fully achieved happiness even though they have everything that they have always wanted in life. The same feelings are experienced in this book. I have never read a novel that had more realistic characters and been more relevant to the challenges of modern life today than Anna Karenina.


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.

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