Rach's Reviews > Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
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's review
Dec 31, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: epically-long, russian, challenge-10-winter, 2010, in-translation, ebook
Read from December 15 to 31, 2010

This is a long book. No seriously, it's enormous. And not only does it have a lot of pages, but it's densely written, which makes it even more challenging to get through. Have I scared you off yet? Despite the challenge of its reading, Anna Karenina really is a book worthy of effort. The length and depth of a novel like this means that there is a lot to it, much of which I probably don't remember. What I can do, though, is try to explain what has stuck with me.

There was a girl; Let's call her Anna. Anna lived her life the way people told her to. Raised by an aunt, she married the man her aunt picked for her. Alexei wasn't an unpleasant man, but he lacked one majorly important feature: Anna didn't love him. Of course, she pretended to, because that was expected of her, but in truth, she just tolerated him. Alexei might have loved Anna, but it's hard to tell. At any rate, their relationship was strained and forced, and she poured all of her love into her son Seryozha.

Then one day, Anna met a boy. He was another boy named Alexei, and this one, she could love. Luckily enough, Alexei #2 loved her, too! It was meant to be! Cue the fireworks and swelling music, here comes their happy ending! But this isn't a romance novel, and that's not the way life works. Though Anna and Alexei were in love, and thought they needed to be together to survive, it turns out that needing each other was their downfall. What started out as deep love and happiness turned in to coldness and frustration. Both Anna and Alexei gave up significant parts of their lives to be together, but in the end, it only made them resentful of each other. Anna left Alexei #1, abandoned her son, gave up respectability in a time when what people thought of you meant everything. Alexei gave up his career, his family, his hope of having a real family. I am convinced that Anna and Alexei loved each other until the end, but they depended too much on one another for their personal happiness. They were always keeping track of who had won which battle between them, who had lost a little bit of ground. When you are both fighting with and depending on the same person, it becomes a situation you just can't live with. Anna figured that out, and decided she was going to have the last victory, the last laugh. She told Alexei that he would regret the way he treated her, and she was right. He was both regretful and completely destroyed. Anna is not the only one at fault for the whole situation, but to be honest, she seemed a little bipolar. If they had lived in our time, I would have recommended counseling and medication.

Thankfully, not everything in this novel was quite so depressing. As the counter to Anna and her Alexeis, the relationship between Kitty and Levin provides the lightness and likablity that this novel needed. Though Kitty is much more likable than Anna, I don't think she and Vronsky (aka Anna's Alexei #2) would have had a happy life if they had ended up together. What seemed like a nightmare to Kitty, Anna stealing Alexei's love out from under her, turned out to be a blessing. And truly, I don't think Kitty ever really loved Alexei - he was charming, handsome, and thoughtful, and she was young, impressionable, and sweet, so she naturally responded to his interest. But her true perfect match was silly, overly-thoughtful, delightful Levin. Though Levin can be quite boring (who really cares that much about the proper way to farm?), some of my favorite scenes were due to his influence. When he proposed a second time to Kitty, with initials written in chalk on a table, I couldn't stop smiling! His waffling opinions could be a little ridiculous at times, but overall, he was just so unassumingly charming that I could help but want to pick him up and hug him. Kitty was sweetness in human form. Her seeming-heartbreak over Vronsky allowed Kitty to take a step back and reevaluate her life. She figured out, before anyone else, that one's happiness can't be derived in whole from another person, but in finding it yourself. For Kitty, that meant helping others, then finding her true calling as a wife and mother. Levin, after struggling throughout with finding balance between his depressing thoughts about the meaning of life and his sheer joy in his unbelievably happy life, finally figures it out: "...My life now, my whole life, regardless of all that may happen to me, every minute of it, is not only not meaningless, as it was before, but has the unquestionable meaning of the good which it is in my power to put into it."

More than anything else, this book is about living a happy life. The first line is perhaps one of the most famous in all of literature: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I don't necessarily believe that is true, though, and I don't think Tolstoy thought it was, either.. Though happy families may appear to be a like, and all have the same self-built quality, if you look deeper, each person took a different path to get to that happy place. There are a lot of characters in this novel, and I can't say for certain that any of them are truly happy other than Kitty and Levin. Maybe Kitty's father, Prince Shcherbatsky. Maybe Kitty's sister and brother-in-law, Natalya and Lvov, though we don't see much of them, to be honest. Anna and both of her Alexeis certainly were not, even when they were most in love. Despite her beauty and charisma, despite her strong passion for life, when I think of Anna, I can think only of sadness. To me, the true heroine of this novel is Kitty, because she managed to avoid a truly tragic fate and find happiness along the way. But I guess "Kitty Shcherbatskaya" isn't that great of a title. :)

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Reading Progress

12/15/2010 page 21
3.0% "Last time I started this one, five years ago, I got about 100 pages in. Here's to finishing it this time, and hopefully before the new year!" 1 comment
12/21/2010 page 330
39.0% "Making good progress, but I've got to maintain this 50-page-a-day pace if I'm going to finish before new year's!"
12/28/2010 page 625
75.0% "So close! But still so far, lol! I'm still hopeful I'll make it. :)" 7 comments

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