** spoiler alert **
I had only a small idea of what I would be reading when I picked up Anna - her death is famous and constantly referenced. However, I had no idea of what would lead her to that point, and I didn't know any of the other names of the characters. Though the lengthy volume looked daunting, as soon as I began to read I was enthralled by every page of this translation.
I loved Tolstoy's characters. For existing in the 1800s, I was fascinated by how entirely real they seemed. I think there's something to be said for Tolstoy's knowledge of the human mind. I figured Anna would be the ultimate sympathetic protagonist here, and she was to a certain extent. Her first appearance in the novel, to the eyes of Vronsky, was undoubtedly great. She enters fresh-faced and jubilant, and devolves through the book into a paranoid and depressed woman (and most of it foreshadowed in that first encounter between her and Vronsky on that train). I'd have to say my favourite character was Levin; I loved his constantly-working mind, and his utter adoration for Kitty. I was so excited during that scene when he proposes to her. And the other characters - Oblonsky, Alexei Alexandrovich, Kitty, Dolly, Vronksy, etc. - all well-developed.
Tolstoy had a way with scenes as well - the ballroom scene through Kitty's eyes when she sees Anna and Vronsky; the horse race; Levin side-by-side with the workers on his farm; Anna's sickness after giving birth; the death of Levin's brother; the birth of Kitty and Levin's son, etc. I remember each of them as vividly as if he painted them.
There was only one part that I felt dragged, and that was in the very last section. I read nearly 800 pages without tiring of the novel, and then struggled to get through the few pages of political and religious commentary. Of course, these few pages didn't ruin the book in the least, but perhaps my exhaustive reading caught up with me. I enjoyed Levin's ending thoughts, for sure.
I honestly never thought I would enjoy this book as much as I did; the volume is quite lengthy and my experience with Tolstoy was always with his shorter works (though I loved them as well). I have to add Anna to my favourite books, it left such an impression on me that now I stare at it over on the bed and wish there was more of it to read. It took a long time (since February 1st!), and the book and its characters were my constant companions in my travels. I can't wait to read it again -- when a few years have passed!