Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy
published 1877
completed January 2011

My first book completed in 2011!  Most of it was read last year, but hey, it still counts.  I've been wanting to read this for years, and I'm so glad that I finally did.  I checked this book out from the library several times and ended up returning it without even opening it.  I was so intimidated by it, but I learned in finally picking it up, that I was entirely wrong.  Anna Karenina is not scary.  At all.  It is long, but it is not difficult.  I read the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which I've heard is one of the best.  That probably helped with the readability.  The fact that every character has five names, and some characters have the same name as others (lots of Alexei and Sergei), was a bit overwhelming at first.  After about forty pages, I was able to keep them straight.

Anna Karenina is very character-driven.  Not much happens, but Tolstoy takes the reader into the minds of the different characters.  Based on the title, I assumed that most of the book would revolve around Anna herself, but Levin is an equally important character.  The beauty of this novel, for me, is in the juxtaposition of Levin and Anna's lives.  Levin lives a simple life out in the country, while Anna is the wife of a prominent man in society who is many years older than Anna.  They each have their share of heartache (some self-inflicted), but Tolstoy shows how their personal choices affect the outcome of their lives.

I loved Levin.  It was so easy for me to relate to him, which is kind of sad because I share some of his negative traits.  He and I are both worriers and over-thinkers (it is super annoying--just ask my husband).  He is so compassionate and concerned about others.  Levin is also quick to forgive.  This is in stark contrast to Anna who is selfish and vengeful.

I know many people who hate this book because of Anna.  I agree; she is despicable.  This didn't ruin the book for me though because I felt this was Tolstoy's point.  I don't think he meant for the reader to sympathize with Anna, but set her up as an example of what happens when you fill your life with selfishness and hatred.  Her relationship with Vronksy could never work.  They were both only thinking of themselves, and they didn't trust each other.  Compare this to Levin and his wife.  Their relationship flourished, and they found happiness because of the love and respect they showed each other.

I would be lying if I said that I loved all of this book.  The farming chapters, the election chapters, and the political discussions were a little dry.  Overall, I really enjoyed reading Anna Karenina.  Is it one of my all-time favorite books?  No.  It might be one of my favorites this year, but we'll have to wait and see.  Is this book for everyone?  Probably not.  Because it is more of a character study, I can see many people finding too slow.  It's just a matter of taste.  If you've been wanting to read it, give it a try.  It isn't as scary as it seems.


  1. Haha, I'm probably one of the ones who scared you! ;) Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Kathy--Your review didn't scare me. It actually pushed me to finally read it.

  3. Well done! At first I thought you'd read the whole thing in less than a week. It definitely took me longer than that. I agree that the farming chapters were slow, but I did love the characters. I loved how Levin and Anna are complete opposites when it comes to religion and throughout the course of the book they switch roles compeltely.

  4. Avid Reader--I wish I could have read it that quickly. I read it in two months, but I read several other books in between.

    I loved the religious aspect of the book. It shows the hypocrisy of some people. Levin as an "unbeliever" leads a much more pure life than many of the "believers." I love how Kitty is supportive of him either way because she knows that regardless of his beliefs, he is an incredibly good person.

  5. I'm definitely in the "Scared" crowd for this one so I'm glad to hear you say it was so readable. Pevear did the translation for Brothers Karamazov and I guess the guys got a lot of clout!

    How great starting off the year with one that might be on your favorites list! I've heard SUCH mixed things about this one that I just don't know what to think.

  6. Trish--I'm nervous to recommend this to anyone because of the length. It's definitely a time commitment. It truly isn't difficult though. This is coming from an accountant who avoided all literature classes in college. :) If anything, it's just a little slow at times. The second half was much faster reading than the first.

    I was nervous about starting it for the reason you mentioned. It seems like it is split pretty evenly between people who love it and people who hate it.

  7. I keep challenging myself to read scary books and this was one I was going to try this year ... glad to hear it isn't as scary as I thought. (And surely it can't be as horrible as The Brothers Karamazov.)

  8. Jenners--I hope you read it and enjoy it. From reading your Brothers Karamozov posts, I'm pretty sure that it will be a very different experience. You may not love it, but I don't think you'll hate it. At least I hope not. Good luck!

  9. Great review. I've always found Tolstoy intimidating, and I didn't join the read-a-long because of that. Your post makes me want to pick it up this year. :)

  10. wow, what a great first book of the year, well done! I'm in the intimidated camp - but I do hope to get to this one day!

  11. Darlyn--It's not as hard as it seems. Hopefully you'll pick it up sometime.

    joanna--I felt so intimidated by it as well. It did feel good to have this as my first of the year! Good luck for when you give it a try.