Somehow in my history of reading, Anna Karenina escaped my attention. The tome sat silently on my shelves for years without my giving it a second glanSomehow in my history of reading, Anna Karenina escaped my attention. The tome sat silently on my shelves for years without my giving it a second glance. In fact, not until I saw a trailer for the recent movie (a travesty I’m told) did Anna Karenina appear on my radar as a book I need to read. One good thing to come out of the movie is that it finally prompted me to read the book and I’m glad I did as this novel was a joy to read.
Anna Karenina revolves around two main characters, Anna Karenina and Konstantine Levin, who each try to buck societal norms by going their own way. The novel itself is primarily a juxtaposition between the stories of these two characters as both of their approaches are almost polar opposites. Anna, a married woman, has an scandalous affair with a young officer (Vronsky) yet insists that society and her husband accept her choices on her terms and without consequences. Conversely, Levin is almost antisocial and has to be all but forced into fulfilling his social obligations as an aristocrat in tsarist russia. But, as Anna gradually becomes more of a social pariah and consequently becomes emotionally unstable, Levin slowly becomes more content and happy and his social standing continues to grow.
In addition to these two main themes, a number of other deep concepts and themes are explored throughout the book including: the decline of the aristocratic class, the responsibility of landowners towards the peasants, faith, societal double standards between the treatment of men and women, forgiveness, the spiritual benefits of hard physical labor, and the role of children in family life, just to name a few. With a few exceptions, examination of most of these themes and concepts occur from both Anna’s and Levin’s perspective which adds a depth to the novel. Tolstoy plays both arguer and devil’s advocate at the same time and the result feels like a thorough examination of these deep ideas.
While reading other reviews and critics of the novel, often I encounter a feminist focused analysis which paints Anna as a tragic heroine who is unfairly punished by society for daring to assert her own wants and desires. Such an analysis does have its merits. One of the many sub themes in the book is the stark contrast between the consequences of Anna’s affair verses the affair of Anna’s brother, highlighting the misogynistic nature of society. However, I find it difficult to accept this analysis.
In my reading, I could not help but see Anna as a selfish woman who believes she can do whatever she wants, including change her mind, without consequences to her no matter who she might hurt in the process. Anna is completely unable to see anyone else as a separate individual with their own equally valid and important needs, wants, and desires nor does she seem to care about the impact her actions have to others. Even Anna’s relationship with her own son has more to do with what Anna wants than what the son wants or needs. In short, I found Anna to be a despicable person bordering on clinical narcissism and certainly not worthy of being held up as a positive example of feminism. Throughout the novel, Anna’s primary motivation seems to be focused on how she can get what she wants and little else.
For me, the more important character is Levin, the pseudo-autobiographical land own who is juxtaposed with Anna throughout the novel. He is primarily consumed with wanting to know what is right and how to live what philosophers call “the good life.” As the novel progresses, he starts out as an anti social hermit who loves one of Stepan Oblonsky’s (Anna’s brother) sister-in-laws from afar. Over the course of the novel he explores various philosophies and tries various experiments on himself and his land in an attempt to figure out how he should behave and what he should believe in to be a good and responsible person. The much criticised last volume of the novel is the climax and resolution of Levin’s development. Levin’s primary motivation throughout the novel, unlike Anna’s, is one of personal development and a pursuit of “the good life.”
Going into Anna Karenina I was a little worried that the writing style would be challenging. I’m not sure if it was because the translation I was reading is particularly good or if the original Russian translates so well but I found the prose very easy to follow. Even keeping track of the many names each character goes by was not a major challenge. One thing I did find fascinating about the writing was that there is very little description of scenery. Trains, sledges, horses, dogs, and people are all described to some degree but there is almost no description of buildings, cities, or landscapes which is a sharp contrast to the similarly length writings of authors like Victor Hugo who fills The Hunchback of Notre Dame with lurid descriptions of Paris and its buildings and scenery. This lack of backdrop sharpens the focus on the characters themselves and makes the novel one primarily of character with the plot there to serve as a backdrop upon which the characters develop.
Anna Karenina is clearly deserving of its place among the best novels ever written in any language and I highly recommend it to readers who love a book primarily focused on characters....more
Once again, Baum produced an excellent child's novel. I believe one can see the maturation of Baum as a writer as one progresses though the Oz books bOnce again, Baum produced an excellent child's novel. I believe one can see the maturation of Baum as a writer as one progresses though the Oz books because this book had a much better story arc than most of his previous works. However, his love of deus ex machina to solve the story's main conflicts at the end still remains a sore point for me.
Rinkitink in Oz almost has nothing to do with Oz whatsoever for the vast majority of the book. Instead it takes place on islands in the ocean that surrounds the countries that border on the deathly desert that surrounds Oz. When characters from Oz do show up in the story it feels hastily thrown in. Personally I think the story would have been better if Oz didn't play a role at all.
If you enjoyed the Oz books thus far, you will likely enjoy this one. The pace of the story is good and there is plenty of action to keep the attention....more
This is the last installment of the Oz books written by Baum. There are dozens of Oz books written by others, including the recent Wicked. I am sorryThis is the last installment of the Oz books written by Baum. There are dozens of Oz books written by others, including the recent Wicked. I am sorry that Baum did not live to write more books because the last few book in the series showed that Baum reached a maturity in writing that was a pleasure to read.
Besides being introduced to so many wonderful characters in an environment that is relatively safe but not without cause for dramatic tension, the thing I enjoyed most about reading all of Baum's Oz books was to see how he progressed and matured as an author fo childrens books. I think any budding author of children's books would do well to read the series in order as I did to observe how he corrected some of the flaws in his earlier books....more
With the last couple of books Baum has come into his own when it comes to story, plot development, and character. Gone are the deus ex machinae and abWith the last couple of books Baum has come into his own when it comes to story, plot development, and character. Gone are the deus ex machinae and abrupt endings. The only real complaint I have is that as the series progresses and the rules and land of Oz matures there are a number of inconsistencies with previous books in the series. However, when looked at on its own, The Tin Woodman of Oz is a solid book of children's fantasy and I recommend it to anyone who like this genre. ...more
One of the most interesting thing to observe during my journy through all of Baum's Oz books was watching him mature as an author. Of all of the Oz boOne of the most interesting thing to observe during my journy through all of Baum's Oz books was watching him mature as an author. Of all of the Oz books thus far, The Lost Princess of Oz was the most even paced and well written by almost any measure. The characters were well described and there was even some character development. For the first time, Baum had two nearly completely plot threads that came together quite well later on. And finally, the conflict is not resolved via a deus ex machina like so many of the previous books.
If a person were to read only one Oz book, this is the one I would recommend....more