Saturday, 12 March 2011

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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.

Verdict: A bit of a slog at times, but well worth it and I won't be forgetting this story.
Score: 4.5 out of 5


  1. I can't wait to read this one!

  2. I am always tempted to grab this book whenever I go to the bookstore. I too feel intimidated by its size. But my younger sister has read it, my mom has recently read it.. and after reading your review.. I think I'll get this book on my next trip to the bookstore =)

  3. I've been looking for a copy of this book, but haven't had any luck in that department. Your post made me want to read it even more.

    Btw, have you read Madame Bovary? A lot of bloggers have compared Anna to Madame Bovary, and I want to know if they really are alike. :)

  4. I loved Anna Karenina - glad you did too!
    I can see the similarities to Madame Bovary, and have to admit I did really enjoy both, although Bovary is MUCH shorter! I keep thinking the next logical step is War and Peace... I'm not quite that brave yet, though!
    Also, Sam, how's the wedding planning?:-)

  5. Braver than me to read this! Perhaps one day.

    I thought we had lost you in the book as you had not been posting.

  6. Thanks for your review :) I also have this one waiting on my shelf but the size & number of characters to keep track of has put me off it for a while. I know I'll get to it eventually...

  7. Mflick1 - it's now one of my favourites too. I can't believe it took me this long to read it.

    Teacher/Learner - don't let the size put you off! It's surprisingly easy to read and the characters were largely easy to keep track of. Give it a go!

  8. I loved this one, too! I think it took me an entire summer to finish it, but it was definitely worth it.

    I agree with the Madame Bovary comparison, but I thought Anna seemed less self-serving than Emma. Anna also had to sacrifice and suffer a lot more before the end.

  9. I'm planning on reading this one when Ive finished War & Peace but am looking out for a decent translation as the one I have is rubbish.

  10. I remember being so scared to read this book! When I finally did, it was completely worth it.
    Love the book! Great review!

  11. So glad you enjoyed this. It is one of my favorites classics, though it is quite sad.