13 October 2016

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Published: 1877
# of Pages: 838
Source: Purchased Copy 

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.

I must start this review by saying that Anna Karenina was and still remains the only exposure that I have had to Russian literature in my short life of twenty-five years. And it definitely was a brilliant, marvelous introduction to the beautiful writing and an intricate story-line. Because there is so much to cover in terms of this massive novel I have broken it down into several different categories I want to address.

Plot: This novel has one of the most complex plot lines I have read in a while. It deals with seven different major characters all who have their own perspective of day to day life as a Russian. I must say that I definitely enjoyed every aspect of the plot from the slow points to the areas where Tolstoy's writing seemed to be moving his plot with a sense of urgency. If I could give any advice to an individual reading Russian literature and Tolstoy for the first time I would definitely remind them to have a sense of patience. Tolstoy crafts his novel in a way that allows the reader to see every single detail and scenario that leads up to the final developments associated with the plot line. As result sometimes the plot seems to move a slow rate and can seem to drag on and on; however, I will give him credit and say that every piece of detail is worth it. Even more amazing about the plot is the fact that the tone of the novel changes with each major character. You, as a reader, really get the opportunity to feel how each character perceives their personal lives as well as the lives of others in 19th century Russia. 

Writing: Tolstoy's writing...there is so much to be said about the writing of this man. In my personal opinion I think it's brilliant. He writes with such fluidity and detail that you feel as though you're living in 19th century Russia with the main characters. You feel a part of the cultural, political, and economic scene. There was a scene in particular during a section that focused on the character of Levin and his journey with cutting grass. Naturally to anyone, reading about cutting grass sounds painfully boring; however, for some reason Tolstoy made it the most interesting task and it turned out to be a relatively calming passage. After reading that section I knew that Tolstoy was a lyrical writer and genius and I must eventually check out some of his other books (War & Peace : D ).

Characters: Tolstoy was able to create a unique world/setting with the invention of his characters. There are many that play a role in this massive novel; however, there are seven in particular that hold the most unique or interesting roles. 
  • Anna Karenina: She was probably one of my least favorite characters hands down. Sometimes I liked her and other times she drove me crazy. I think it had a lot to do with wanting to "eat her cake and have it too." I know she was unhappy and wanted to leave her relationship; however, it seemed to me that she didn't take her son into consideration. And the ending made me feel that way even more. 
  • Levin: He definitely was my favorite character out of every one. He was interesting on all accounts and made everything more fun to read. Not only was he interesting, but he also introduced me as a reader to Russian politics, agriculture, finance, cultural lifestyle, business, etc. And each time a passage appeared with him it I looked forward to learning something new. 
  • Alexei Karenin: I don't really know how to express my feelings about Alexei. I felt sorry for him, but at the same time I didn't. I think he was hurting at the fact that he lost his wife; however, I think in some instances he treated her too harshly. 
  • Vronsky: I think he is right in the same category as Anna. I did not like the idea that he led Kitty on and then decided that he instead wanted to be with a married woman who he couldn't really fully support emotionally, mentally, or financially. It just caused my drama and uneasiness then was necessary. In my mind I think Vronsky was simply looking for a good time and ended up in a situation he did not expect. 
  • Stiva Oblonsky: Okay let's just admit it. Stiva was hilarious! He definitely was unfaithful to his wife Dolly and hurt her in more ways than one, but he was also the reason why Vronsky and Anna met in the first place. Had he not had an affair with the nanny I don't think any of the misfortunes of this novel would have occurred. 
  • Kitty: I loved watching her grow as a character and into a woman. She had her heart broken by another character, but it was great to know she found solace within another. 
  • Dolly: I did not like or dislike Dolly. I think most of the time I just felt extremely sorry for her. Oblonsky treated her awfully and I commend Dolly for being so strong about it, but at the same time I wouldn't have stayed with him.  
Overall: This novel was mesmerizing, captivating and everything I could have asked for in an  introduction to Russian literature. Tolstoy writes in such a captivating manner it's hard to put his work down and I look forward to reading more works by him. If you are looking for a great introduction to Russian literature I definitely recommend this book. Remember to be patient and take your time and really take in everything that Tolstoy is trying to introduce to the reader.


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