Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Come wintertime, I start to crave Russia. Not Russian food or vodka or anything like that. More like stuff that puts me in a Russia mood. So I listen to a lot of Havalina “Russian Lullabyes”. I want to hear a lot of instrument piano. I stick “Russian Ark” in the DVD player. This month, I had an unbearable craving to read Tolstoy. So I downloaded Anna Karenina.

For all intents, I loved this book because of how showed a very fascinating portrait of two people on a train wreck (pun intended) to ruin, and not just them, but all those who are affected by them. I sort of knew what would happened in the ending because it was spoiled for me in another book I read. But I wanted to know exactly how Anna reached that point of no returned, and Tolstoy did an excellent job of getting inside her head. Vronsky came across to me as a immature brat, and I couldn’t really see why Anna would go for him in the first place. Watching her abandoning her son for him was sad. Watching their relationship cross from love to boredom to petty jealousy, especially when it was obvious that Anna could no longer move freely in her social circles as Vronsky could, was probably the saddest thing of all.

I wish I didn’t read it on a PDA though, because while the parts dealing with Anna and Vronksy were interesting, I had to slog through huge long sections of people disussing philosophy and social commentary. Levin’s character was the greatest offender–personally, I thought him to  to be an idiot. If I was more into Russian history, I think I’d be more interested in Levin’s philosophying questions. But man, it was dull. Dull, dull dull. And unfortunately, because I was reading it on a PDA, I couldn’t really flip through the pages easily.

The other reason that made the story hard to read was the fact that Tolstoy uses third person POV unlimited for everyone. If there’s a character in the scene, they’ll have some thought of what’s going on. It’s a pain to not only hear what Levin and Stepan Oblonsky is thinking (BTW, Oblonsky is a cheerful blockhead), but we also get to hear what their waiter is thinking too. Heck, when Levin goes hunting (and there were pages and pages of that, let me tell you), we even get input from the stupid dog.

The ony thing that redeems Levin for me is Kitty. In fact, Kitty was the only character that I felt any real sympathy for. Interesting, to see the contrast between the relationship between Anna and Vronsky deteriorate while the relationship between Kitty and Levin grow. I don’t know exactly why Kitty went for Levin. My favorite scene was when Kitty gets hit on by a houseguest (while she is pregnant, even), and Levin typically blows up. Not only does Kitty calms him down, they both wind up discussing it late into the night. No fighting. No snapping arguments. Genunine discussion. And that’s the basis of a good marriage.

I plan to watch the movie and the miniseries after this, so I could get a good idea of the storyline without all the philosophizing and the debating. I don’t know how to rate it. When the story stuck to the plot, it was wonderful, but when it got bogged down by Tolstoy’s ideas (and I know it was Tolstoy’s ideology), it really slowed the story down. I give Anna Karenina 2-1/2 vodkas out of 5, and I have to wonder, if this story took place in today’s culture, would it end the same way?

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One Response

  1. When I first read Anna, it took me so long, I read it in three different translations (hello library system in two different cities) and the names changed with each translation. It would take me about 100 pages to have all the characters sorted out again.
    It’s interesting that you didn’t like Levin, since he was my favorite (yes, the hunting parts did get a bit long). I would like to see less of Anna and Vronsky and more of Levin and Kitty.
    After I bought the book, I decided to reread it (bonus – all the names are the same when you own the copy!). I got mad at Alexi and haven’t picked it up in more than a year…that man drives me crazy. Of course, he’s got morality on his side, so the fact that I don’t like him makes a piece of my soul sad.

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