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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The End!
     I finally finished Tolsoy's Anna Karenina! As you are aware if you have read some of my previous posts, I have been reading this one for quite a while. My Signet Classics copy weighed in at 807 pages but it was worth every sentence. Read more below!

Book Description (from 
     Anna Karenina is the tragedy of married aristocrat and socialite Anna Karenina and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. The story starts when she arrives in the midst of a family broken up by her brother's unbridled womanizing—something that prefigures her own later situation, though with less tolerance for her by others.
     A bachelor, Vronsky is willing to marry her if she would agree to leave her husband Karenin, a government official, but she is vulnerable to the pressures of Russian social norms, her own insecurities and Karenin's indecision. Although Vronsky eventually takes Anna to Europe where they can be together, they have trouble making friends. Back in Russia, she is shunned, becoming further isolated and anxious, while Vronsky pursues his social life. Despite Vronsky's reassurances she grows increasingly possessive and paranoid about his imagined infidelity, fears losing control.
     A parallel story within the novel is of Levin, a country landowner who desires to marry Kitty, sister to Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna's brother Oblonsky. Levin has to propose twice before Kitty accepts. The novel details Levin's difficulties managing his estate, his eventual marriage, and personal issues, until the birth of Levin's first child.

My Thoughts:
     First published in installments in the periodical The Russian Messenger from 1873 to 1877, Anna Karenina was released in book form in 1878 but more than a century later, it still reads very modern. (The version I read was translated by David Magarshack in 1961 but more recent translations have been published.) The size and scope of the book seemed daunting when I first began. However, the story instantly captures the reader's attention from the opening line: "All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
     Divided into eight parts, the novel addresses and conquers so many themes that the book becomes an overview of life. Adultery, passion, love, loss, death, family, religion, politics, class, society- you name it, Tolstoy tackled it in this tome. According to wikipedia, William Faulkner described the book as "the best ever written." It would be hard to dispute this statement.
     There are many main characters that share the spotlight with Anna herself but it is the allure of her character that quietly drives the other storylines. The reader is not instantly introduced to Anna. The mystery of her builds up our excitement with the announcement that she is to visit her brother, Oblonsky, and his wife Dolly. This visit changes the course of Anna's life, and we follow her through her journey and demise.
     With the recent release of a new film adaptation starring Keira Knightley as Anna, the book is once again garnering great attention. Previously, the novel was also a hot topic as it was selected for Oprah's Book Club in 2004.
     There is much to digest in Anna Karenina, leaving one with the sense that everything cannot possibly be grasped as Tolstoy understood it. Background information on the making of the book outlines that Tolstoy incorporated many of his personal experiences into the storyline, including his relationship with his wife Sonya which he used to mold the characters of Levin and Kitty.
     Anna Karenina is a classic indeed. It has traveled gracefully through the ages and will continue to do so. In the final part, Levin begins to ponder the quintessential question we all form- What is the meaning of life? And can faith help us to define it? Is goodness the essential preservation of the soul? Levin's state of being brings the conclusion to the book and it is one of optimism and hope for a brighter future. What more could a reader ask for than a story that leads us on a search for a greater understanding of self? Anna Karenina- a perfect ten.

Happy Reading!

1 comment:

  1. You did a great job explaining the book.

    I only made it 3/4 of the way through. I couldn't finish it....too long and too stilted. :)

    It DEFINITELY is a classic. :)

    Stopping by from Carole's Your Favorite Historical Fiction Post. I am in that list as #4.

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