My journey into Russian literature continues with Anna Karenina.
I have owned this book for a long time but have always been put off reading it because of its size and the fact that it's Russian and therefore to me, intimidating. After reading it, I really wish I had gotten around to it much sooner.
The only word that can truly describe this book is epic.
In some ways it reminded me a lot of Gone with the Wind
in this sense - it was epic but not at all stodgy and quite fast paced. The story centres around two sets of characters and their quest for happy family lives. Anna leaves a passionless marriage for a romance with Count Vronsky, losing her social status and access to her son. But her sacrifice soon starts to put pressure on her new relationship. Levin, a romantic idealist wants an idyllic life in the country with new wife Kitty. In fact, the opening statement sums up what the story is about well: "All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion."
What I absolutely loved about this book was how perceptive Tolstoy was about life in general. His observations about character feelings and society were very profound in places and I found myself underlining a lot of key passages in the book. I especially liked the way he wrote the stream of consciousness' of the main characters when they were going through a crisis as it made it easy to relate to them; for example when Levin was suffering with low self-esteem after being rejected:
"No, you're not going to be different. You're going to be the same as you have always been - with your doubts, your perpetual dissatisfaction with yourself and vain attempts to amend, your failures and everlasting expectation of a happiness you won't get and which isn't possible for you."
The characters in general were so vivid and complex and real that they just jumped off the page. Over the course of the book I felt like I had really got to know Anna, Vronsky, Levin, Kitty, Dolly and Oblonsky so when it got near the end and dramatic events started to happen I was glued to each page.
I was definitely emotionally involved, even if I didn't quite understand why Anna would ever go for Vronsky as he seemed like such a shallow player at the beginning.
The only slight criticism I could make is that there were too many minor characters for me - I didn't really care about Levin's brother (the writer one, not the drug addict one) or the self-sacrificing Varenka enough to read whole chapters about them. But it is a minor criticism, I really enjoyed reading this one.
A bit of a slog at times, but well worth it and I won't be forgetting this story.
4.5 out of 5