Brina's Reviews > Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
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it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, long-reads, russian-lit

A few months ago I read Anna in the Tropics, a Pulitzer winning drama by Nilo Cruz. Set in 1920s Florida, a lector arrives at a cigar factory to read daily installments of Anna Karenina to the workers there. Although the play takes place in summer, the characters enjoyed their journey to Russia as they were captivated by the story. Even though it is approaching summer where I live as well, I decided to embark on my own journey through Leo Tolstoy's classic nineteenth century classic novel. Although titled Anna Karenina after one of the novel's principle characters, this long classic is considered Tolstoy's first 'real' novel and his take on a modernizing country and on people's lives within it.

The novel begins as Anna Karenina arrives in Moscow from Petersburg to help her brother and sister-in-law settle a domestic dispute. Members of Russia's privileged class, Darya "Dolly" Alexandrovna discovers that her husband Stepan Arkadyich "Stiva" Oblonsky has engaged in an affair with one of their maids. Affairs being a long unspoken of part of upper class life, Dolly desires to leave her husband along with their five children. Anna pleads with Dolly to reconcile, and the couple live a long, if not tenuous, marriage, overlooking each other's glaring faults. While settling her brother's marriage, Anna is reminded of her own unhappy marriage, setting the stage for a drama that lasts the duration of the novel.

Tolstoy sets the novel in eight parts and short chapters with three main story lines, allowing for his readers to move quickly through the plot. In addition to Stiva and Dolly, Tolstoy introduces in part one Dolly's sister Kitty Shcherbatsky, a young woman of marriageable age who is forced to choose between Count Vronsky and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin. At a ball in Kitty's honor, Vronsky is smitten with Anna, temporarily breaking Kitty's heart. Even though Levin loves Kitty with his whole heart, Kitty refuses his offer in favor of Vronsky, and falls into a deep depression. Levin, seeing the one love of his life reject him, vows to never marry.

Anna becomes a fallen woman and rejects her husband in favor of Vronsky, fathering his child, leaving behind the son she loves. Even those closest to her, including family members, are appalled. A G-D fearing woman in a religious society is supposed to view marriage as sacred. Yet, Anna does not value her loved ones' advice and chooses to live with Vronsky. Despite a comfortable, upper class life, Anna is in constant internal turmoil. Spurned by a society that clings to its institutions as marriage and the church, Anna chooses love yet isolation from all but Vronsky and their daughter. Her ex-husband is viewed as a strict adherent to the law, cold, and unsympathetic, and will not grant a divorce. Even though Anna is clearly in the wrong, Tolstoy has his readers sympathizing with her situation, rooting for a positive outcome. He brings to light the plight of lack of women's rights, especially in regard to divorce, and has one hoping that Russia changes her ways as she modernizes.

If Anna's situation sheds light on the worst of Russian society and Dolly's reveals its stagnation, then Kitty, who later marries Levin, shows how the country begins to modernize. Kostya and Kitty marry for love, rather than gains in society. Believed by many to be Tolstoy's alter ego, Levin is an estate farmer who is well aware of the rights of his tenant farmers called muzhiks. Along with his brother Sergei Ivanovich, Levin works toward agrarian reform. Both men, Sergei Ivanovich especially, is swept up in the communist ideals that are beginning to form, in rejection of the tsarist governing of the country. Tolstoy diverges pages at a time to farming reforms and one can see in these pages his own beliefs for the future of Russia in the late 19th century.

Through the three principle couples: Stiva and Dolly, Vronsky and Anna, and Levin and Kitty, Tolstoy presents the old, changing, and new Russia. Having Levin introduce farming mechanisms from the west and Vronsky participate in a Slavic war, Tolstoy presents a Russia that is no longer completely isolated. He reveals how communism begins to shape up as farmers are no longer happy as tenants and many privileged classes adhere to newer values. Meanwhile, through Dolly, Anna, and Kitty, Tolstoy also presents how a woman's role in this society changes, including schooling and her place in a marriage. As the twentieth century nears, Russian life is no longer set in antiquated ways.

Had I not read a drama set in the tropics, I most likely would not have journeyed to 19th century Russia. I enjoyed learning about Leo Tolstoy's views on life there and how he saw late 19th century Russia as a changing society. I found the plight his title character depressing while reading about Levin and Kitty to be uplifting as Russia moves toward the future. Tolstoy's words are accessible in spite of the novel's length, a testament to the stellar translation done by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. A true classic, I enjoyed my time with the characters in Anna Karenina, and rate Tolstoy's premier novel 5 shining stars.
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Quotes Brina Liked

Leo Tolstoy
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

Reading Progress

January 15, 2017 – Shelved
January 15, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
January 15, 2017 – Shelved as: classics
January 15, 2017 – Shelved as: russian-lit
January 15, 2017 – Shelved as: long-reads
April 23, 2017 – Started Reading
April 24, 2017 –
page 117
13.54% "Part II"
April 25, 2017 –
page 237
27.43% "Part III"
April 26, 2017 –
page 322
April 27, 2017 –
page 362
41.9% "Part IV"
April 27, 2017 –
page 437
52.15% "Part V"
April 29, 2017 –
page 613
April 30, 2017 –
page 769
91.77% "Part VIII"
April 30, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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Judith E One of my all time favorites. I read this many, many years ago but I still vividly remember a particular scene. That tells me it's a great book!

Brina Judith I was left captivated by the book. Certain scenes stand out to me too and maybe one day I will revisit it.

message 3: by dianne (new)

dianne What a careful, thorough review - thanks. Very interesting, the 2 novels in that order - seeing the impact, the importance, of Tolstoy's novel - at least at one point in time and place - then reading it in your own. nice juxtaposition!

Brina Thank you Dianne. At the beginning of the year Anna Karenina wasn't on my radar in terms of classics to read this year. Then I read Cruz' play and the characters got swept up in the drama. I decided to read the novel for myself and I'm glad I did. Very accessible writing. Now to tackle War and Peace ;)

message 5: by dianne (new)

dianne back to back? definite overachiever !

Brina Oh no I could never do that. But it doesn't seem as daunting now that I am familiar with Tolstoy's writing style and it becomes a sooner rather than later read.

Maria Thomarey Excellent

Brina Thank you so much, Maria.

Bianca It's truly a masterpiece.

Brina Thank you, Bianca, agreed :)

Debbie It is a wonderful work.Pulls your heart in so many different directions.

Brina Yes, Debbie, and that's why for an 800 page book it is relatively easy reading. So many story lines I had to know what happened to all the characters.

message 13: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Nice review!

Brina Thank you, Greg !!

Amanda how have you read that book so fast? :O nice review!

Brina Thank you, Amanda. Once I got into the story, the book was accessible to read. And I budgeted pages per day to get it done. I hope you get a chance to read it.

Amanda Nice!

I read it once long ago when I was a teen. But I found out afterwards that the translation was really poor. Translating Tolstoy is supposed to be very difficult! I have gotten myself a good translation now and I am just waiting for the courage to read it!

Brina I thought the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation was exemplary. Words smooth it was hard to remember that book had been translated. Is that the version you got?

Amanda I got a version translated to portuguese, which is my mother tongue. but I´ll definitely check the P&V version! thanks.

message 20: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma 1 I read Anna Karenina eight years ago and was absolutely enchanted and transported by it, I remember being so engrossed and uplifted reading of the Russian Orthodox wedding between Kitty and Levin. I hope to re-read this beautiful work soon.

Brina Emma I have read a few Russian novels this year and felt the same way about them. It must be something about the time and place. Hopefully one day I will get to read this as well.

message 22: by Pillsonista (last edited Feb 21, 2018 07:13AM) (new)

Pillsonista This is probably my all-time favorite novel, and I've read both the Pevear/Volokhonsky and the Kent/Berberova revision of Constance Garnett's original English translation. I think both to be excellent, but I have to say I actually prefer the Kent/Berberova revision. What amazes me every time I read it is how natural Tolstoy's prose (almost seems vulgar to call it that) is, even in translation. How does he do it? It's like he found a way to bind life as it is unfolds in real time between the cover of a book. The transition from words printed on the page to sentient experience is seamless. As if by alchemy...

Brina Pillsonista after I'm caught up with my tbr I will have to go back and read the Kent translation. It sounds fascinating. Thank you for the tip.

message 24: by Pillsonista (last edited Feb 21, 2018 08:51PM) (new)

Pillsonista No problem, Brina, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, or rather, do. Between the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation and the Kent/Berberova revision, English language readers are spoiled for choice, and the luckier for it. I'm even considering giving the Maude translation a try, because I very much enjoyed their War and Peace .

Also, I'm very interested in this Anna in the Tropics. I don't read a lot of drama aside from Shakespeare (as compared to fiction and poetry), but this sounds like a wonderful play.

Brina Anna in the Tropics was a wonderful play. And perhaps I should tackle War and Peace before I read Anna K a second time no matter how brilliant it is.

message 26: by Pillsonista (last edited Feb 21, 2018 09:24AM) (new)

Pillsonista I loved War and Peace. Not as much as Anna Karenina, but it's still Tolstoy at his best, which is always a joy.

I have a few hefties I'm going to read this year, but once I'm done with those I'm going to tackle Pevear & Volokhonsky's War and Peace .

Elyse Walters Terrific review Mrs. Brina!!! Wonderful review!!!!!

Brina Aww, thanks, Elyse. Yours wasn’t too shabby either. Gotta love those Russians 🇷🇺 and their everlasting list of names 💕

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