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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (final thoughts)

June 18, 2010

Oh my, how do I even begin to sum up this book? For starters, let’s take a look at the main players.

First we have Oblonsky and his wife Dolly. Oblonsky is a well-liked society man of Moscow with a soft spot for women who aren’t his wife. Dolly has had enough of feeling unloved and is contemplating taking drastic action and leaving her husband. But leave and go where?

Next up is Kitty, the youngest of Dolly’s sisters. She has just reached marrying-age and is enjoying society – especially the society of one man in particular, a Mr. Vronsky.

Levin is an old friend of Oblonsky, although they don’t see much of each other. Busy with running his country estate and its farm, he rarely ventures into the city. But this time he has come with a specific purpose in mind. He has set all his happiness on marrying Kitty.

Last, but definitely not least, is Anna. Oblonsky’s dear sister, she has come from St. Petersburg to make peace in her brother’s marriage. She expects nothing more from this trip than to assist her brother and then return to her husband and son, happily continuing on with her life. But then she meets Vronsky.

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

Tolstoy begins his story with this line and then goes on to portray the happinesses and unhappinesses of these families for another 800 or so pages. The chapters alternate between all the above characters, plus a few more, which was a lot less confusing than I thought it would be. Most of the book focuses on Levin and Anna, the steps they each took to find and procure love, and the consequences of those decision. It was these sections that I found most interesting, especially when the Levin sections also included Kitty. I loved the comparisons that Tolstoy drew between Levin, Anna, and Oblonsky’s families, how they each functioned and handled things (such as infidelity) so differently.

What I didn’t love? The long tangents Tolstoy went off on about certain subjects. Levin’s farm and how it worked. Karenin’s new law. Vronsky’s racehorse. I’m sure that there are lots of people who love rambling prose, but it was these sections that made the book so difficult for me to get through. Related to this, Tolstoy’s pacing made it really difficult to read long sections at once. There would be a big, action packed scene, and then 50 pages of Levin contemplating the meaning of life. I don’t know if this was due to the fact that originally the book was published in separate parts that weren’t necessarily meant to be read one after another, or if Tolstoy just liked to mix things up. Either way, I could only read at most 20 pages at a time.

In my opinion, however, the last few chapters with Anna make working through all the chapters up to that point completely worth it. Even though I knew how things turned out for her (By the way, thanks a lot back cover blurb. Why must you give away important information like that?), I could barely breathe during those chapters. And pulling my nose out of the book was completely out of the question.

There’s so much that could be discussed in this book, but I’m going to stop here. Overall, Anna Karenina wasn’t a favourite of mine, but I am glad I read it and think it’s worth reading once.

My rating: 7/10

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2010 9:03 pm

    I love AK. I really believe that the story Tolstoy wanted to tell was Levin’s and the working out of a marriage where the people are committed to loving each other and compromising for each other. But who wants to read a book about a functional marriage – so he threw in the more exciting story of Anna and Vronksy. Just my opinion, though. :) Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. June 21, 2010 6:29 am

    What a great review! I loved the way you described barely being able to breathe during the last few chapters. Tolstoy’s characters are unforgettable. And yes, he does tend to go off on tangents. :-)

  3. June 21, 2010 8:52 am

    I bought AK on saturday . “All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion” : this is also quoted in “The elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery (that I just finished but I can’t stop thinking about)

  4. June 21, 2010 2:26 pm

    This book is on my list to read one day, but I have a feeling that day is far down the road.

    Great review….I liked how you broke the story down. I have a better idea of what I am in for once I do begin the read. :D

  5. June 22, 2010 8:49 am

    I really ought to read this :)

  6. November 9, 2010 10:31 am

    An apt review. I agree Tolstoy tends to be too verbose at some points, describing irrelevant things in unnecessary detail but some portions of the book are just splendid!! Not one of my favorites either but definitely a must read!!

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