Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy (Review)

Amazon Summary: 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 thereby exposes herself to 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.

Rating: 3.5 - 4 / 5

Review: Coming in at a little over 700 pages, Anna Karenina felt like quite a journey by the ending. It took me a little over a month (while reading comics in between) to get through this one and I'm definitely feeling the sadness of being separated from the characters after so long. I've been writing up this review on and off all day because I'm not sure how to summarize a piece as large as this. The two elements that stuck out to me the most were the larger thematic topics the book broached (relationships, gender, family, class issues etc.) and the political commentary of the time/location. I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a good portion of the political discussion went right over my head. Don't get me wrong - there are parts that are easy to follow despite having no background information - but there were large paragraphs where I had to concede my lack of understanding. Despite this, I was very drawn in throughout the majority of the book. The books sections take on a third-person perspective from each character's point of view which shifts the narration tone a bit with each voice. As might be assumed, the pieces from the titular character were the most interesting for me.

The book felt split primarily between the lives of Anna and her lover, Vronsky, and their distantly related acquaintances Levin and Kitty. Anna lives a much more liberal and upper-class lifestyle (due to her decision to leave her husband and child for Vronsky) while Levin and Kitty have a slow-paced, more traditional marriage running the family farm. I especially enjoyed scenes in which the women's lives were juxtaposed amongst one another - particularly because their interactions (the 'whore' vs the 'madonna') still somehow felt deeply relevant to our current society. I'm still amazed at how little our interactions and roles have changed despite how far off these characters seem from my own life. Levin, who is an obvious stand-in for Tolstoy, while not awful is a bit on the dull side and has some very long-winded passages.

If you consider yourself a writer or an avid reader, this book is worth your time if only to study Tolstoy's mastery of language. And I'm sure I was still missing some of the depth due to subtleties being lost in the translation. Each scene, no matter how simple and mundane was lovely to read and incredibly easy to get lost in. I was surprised to find the depth and humanity that Tolstoy gave to his female characters. I felt they were represented sympathetically and fairly the majority of the time - although I thought the ending was extremely rushed and did not give Anna (or any of the other ladies, to be fair) her due. I was really loving the book the majority of the way through, and it would have earned a solid 4 from me had it not ended as unresolved as it did. The amount of time given to Levin at the end vs. Anna and her family seemed self-indulgent and not as carefully planned as the rest of the book. Perhaps it was done for a reason that I'm not understanding, but I wanted more of a resolution after dedicating so much time to the story.

Final Thoughts: I have a feeling the average reader will find this a struggle to get through - but it's written beautifully and is overall well done. For readers and writers it's a must - for everyone else it really depends on your level of interest when it comes to realistic fiction and how much time you're willing to spend on one book.

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