Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Trapped in a love less marriage to a man with good social standing, Anna Karenina does the unthinkable–she enters into a doomed, passionate love affair with another man.

Society will torment her, her husband will ridicule her, but her own guilt will drive her to the breaking point.

With one of the most memorable opening scenes in western literature, Anna Karenina is a literary masterpiece about life, passion, and love.

This lengthy novel is spread over eight parts featuring two alternating protagonists, Konstantin Levin and Anna Karenina.

The elegant and proper Anna, is married to a high-ranking government official, Alexei Karenin. For the past eight years they have maintained a fragile facade. On the outside their marriage appears amiable but in the absence of love, there is nothing but respect and understanding to fill the missing pieces.

For her part, Anna is content keeping up the appearances….until she meets Vronsky. Vronsky is rich, good-looking, dashing, and completely taken by Anna from the moment he sees her. Once love and passion are awakened in their souls, Anna and Vronsky are more than willing to enter into an illicit affair.

Comparatively, Levin is the moral compass of sorts in the novel. He is not a socialite, bureaucrat, intellectual, or a rogue….he is an ordinary man who feels extraordinary emotion. Anyone could relate to him and like him, so he becomes the main protagonist.

Levin falls in love with Kitty, whose family Levin has been close with for many years. Kitty is perfection to him, she is the standard all other women should be measured by. When Levin asks her to marry him, he is rejected in favor of another man whom Kitty is infatuated with, Vronsky. Levin is broken-hearted but rather than find another woman to marry, he confines himself to bachelorhood….he will not marry another, only his one true love.

The novel follows the lives and the out comes of choices made by our two main protagonists as well as a host of other characters.

I started reading this novel in preparation for the film version which will be coming out in Nov….and let’s just have a moment here….does this film look sexy or what?  The official trailer it’s totally worth a viewing I might add!

I was hesitant to pick up this book simply because of its length. Honestly, 1000+ pages is intimidating and Russian literature isn’t my idea of light reading, but I decided to give it a go anyway.

This book is so wonderfully written. The prose is dramatic, dark, tragic, sweeping, bold, and majestic. Almost any reader can relate to one of the characters in the novel, it truly is more than a story of love and adultery, it’s a story of life.

The style grabs you, but ultimately it’s the characters that drive the novel. The characters are unforgettable and realistic. I am a sucker for  inner monologues, it is hard to describe how this devices helps the reader identify with the character in a unique way, it is something to be experienced rather than explained….and Tolstoy is truly the master of inner monologues. Readers are in for a treat.

While I enjoyed Levin’s character, Anna was my favorite. I could sympathize with her for many different reasons. Though she dug her own grave and at times annoyed me with her mood swings and insecurities, you have to admire a woman who was willing to throw it all in for the man she loved.

Here was a woman who stood to lose everything…..her good name, her husband, her husband’s good name, she would ruin her son’s future and never see him again. She was willing to risk it all….all for a man who she loved but wasn’t 100% sure he loved her in return. That’s a huge gamble….Vronsky really has nothing to lose….the guilt, the ruin, the risk….is all hers.

You have to admit, it takes some serious guts to sit across from your husband, tell him you’ve been having an affair, and you are now in love with that man, and you are carrying his baby, and you hate him (your husband)….that’s what I call GUTS!

Anna was a beautiful disaster plain and simple.

I think one of the things that struck me most in the novel, was the lack of lust. When Vronsky meets Anna for the first time in the train station, this is a unforgetable moment. I love that he doesn’t focus on her beauty as the dominant draw to her character, their connection is more spiritual.

He doesn’t just see a pretty face in the crowd and lust after her, he loves her spirit and is draw by her charisma. He instantly recognizes her thirst for passion and knows they are a match pair. But like Anna’s husband, Vronsky also has his limitations. Neither man can truly satisfy Anna, so in some ways she is disappointed by both men.

While Anna is trying to sort out her marital issues, Levin and Kitty reconnect and fall in love. Their love story parallels Anna’s love triangle, showing the reader what true love could be like. Having the dueling love stories going on helped highlight the conflicts and character limitations beautifully. It added a lot of foreshadowing and created situations for readers to see characters in a different way.

This novel touches on a variety of different themes and issues ranging from forgiveness, adultery, society, love, passion, faith, and life. Anything I say about this book would be minute by comparison. This novel is exquisite. I could literally write paper upon paper about this book, dissecting all the characters, themes, and symbolism. There is so much to choose from!

That said, there were a few things that disrupted the reading for me. There was a lot about Russian socioeconomics and farming that did not interest me. I also struggled with all the Russian names and nicknames. The novel did drag in places. I was also much more interested in Anna and Vronsky’s love affair than any of the other characters or their lives.

For me, the build up to the romantic encounter in any book is the most crucial–the first kiss, the first declaration, the first moment when the reader knows the relationship has changed from platonic to passionate. When Anna and Vronsky finally consummate their relationship, I almost missed it. There was not a lot of build up for me which I found disappointing. There was a lot of foreshadowing of themes yet to come but not a lot of romantic tension between the two.

But that said, this is a novel about life, not about romance and for that Tolstoy gets my highest praise.

If you are looking for a novel that will sweep you off your feel, look no further. Though it is long and at times a little slow, it is an extraordinary character driven novel that you do not want to miss.

It is simply a once in a life time read.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • Kindle Edition, free kindle edition, etext prepared by David Brannan, 1170 pages
  • Published July 1st 1998 by Public Domain Books (first published 1877
  • ASIN B000JMLILO

This book counts toward: Why by the Cow Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 (a classic, sweeping tale of romance)

Genre: Literature, Classic, Romance

Memorable lines/quotes:

She had no need to ask why he had come. She knew as certainly as if he had told her that he was here to be where she was.

He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.

However much she might struggle she could not be stronger than herself

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18 Comments

  1. This is one of those books I’ve always wanted to read but have just never been brave enough to start. I’m certain I have a copy here … although the cover doesn’t show quite so much skin 😀

    Reply
  2. Lovely review. I had not thought to read this at all (it was too daunting), but after your review, perhaps I will put it back on the list. 🙂

    Reply
    • It was a little daunting at times but I loved the characters and the themes of the book. Very well written and character driven for sure! Good luck cheers 🙂

      Reply
  3. Marian

     /  May 22, 2013

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