Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review: Anna Karenina

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." And so begins Leo Tolstoy's classic novel, "Anna Karenina." I have wanted to read this book for such a long time, but was so intimidated by it. It definitely is not for the faint of heart. At 754 pages, it's lengthy, but so worth the read in my opinion. It has plenty of drama and scandal. As my aunt said, (who was also reading this at the same time) it could be subtitled "Desperate Housewives of Moscow"!! It was published in parts starting in 1875. Apparently adultery is not anything new, as there was plenty of adultery in this novel. I don't know why I thought adultery was a new "trend" - after all, adultery is forbidden by the 10 Commandments, so obviously it's been a problem for the human race for quite awhile.

Anyways, the story of Anna Karenina is centered around two couples: Anna Karenina and her lover Vronsky, and Konstantin Levin and his wife. Anna was previously married but falls in love with Vronsky and decides to leave her husband and her young son to live with her lover. Divorce was not accepted at this time in history, so she was shunned by society for the lifestyle she chose. While Anna's life can be described as scandalous, Levin's is the complete opposite. He is devoted to his wife and his work. One chose a life of passion, the other chose a life of duty and sacrifice.

I did not find Anna Karenina to be a very likeable character. Towards the end of the novel, she has such feelings of jealously that she finds pleasure in attempting to make other men fall in love (or lust) with her. When Levin come to visit her towards the end of the novel Anna has this thought after he leaves,

"she had... done her utmost to arouse in Levin a feeling of love - as of late she had fallen into doing that with all young men - and she knew she had attained her aim, as far as was possible in one evening..."

It is interesting to consider how different her life might have been if she had lived during modern times when divorce is more acceptable. The shame that Vronsky & Anna experienced seemed to draw a wedge between them. Perhaps if she could have divorced her husband and married Vronsky, their life would have been different. But maybe it wouldn't have been. Either way, it is interesting to think about.

I learned so much about Russia & Russian culture by reading this book. My dear friend from work is getting married in Russia on the same day as my sister. I learned so much about Russian wedding customs by reading about Levin's wedding - it helps me imagine what Yulia's wedding will be like.

Has anybody else read "Anna Karenina"? If so, what did you think? Did you feel more sympathy for Anna than I did? If you haven't read Anna Karenina, what is the best 'classic' novel you've read?

I can't wait to chat about the book with my aunt Barb when I see her next!


Amber said...

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it so much! I will have to add it to my already enormous "to-read" list!

My favourite classic novel is definitely "Little Women". I know thats kind of a cliche answer but I truly did REALLY love that book! I should actually re-read it soon. It's been years since I last read it!

Unknown said...

First of all, congratulations to both of us for accomplishing this task. I loved the book and am glad you inspired me to read it (again). I also did not like Anna as the story unfolded, and even tried to imagine living in a world with such double standards. The main thing for me was the fact she left her son who had been her entire world (and she his) for a man. And later, she admitted she had no love for the daughter she had with Vronsky. The fact she had failed her children did not seem to enter into her self pity as she made her fateful choice. As a mother, I found her choices incomprehensible. Maybe we should get a copy of the old movie made in the 30's with Greta Garbo as Anna. Good winter night activity!!!

Anais said...

I've never read it because I have also been intimidated by it...

That was a GREAT book review! You seem like you would be an awesome person to be in a book club with :)

Anonymous said...

well I suppose I will have to read it, though I'm sure it will take me a very long time.

I will reread your review when I read the book =)

crystal said...

This has been at the top of my "to read" list forever...but as a grad student, my boring textbooks have perpetually gotten in the way of a 700+ page book! I will definitely get to it though and hopefully be able to share my thoughts. Thanks for sharing yours.

Anais said...


That IS so weird, re: your weight loss and mine!!!

Are you still trying to lose weight or are you happy where you are now?

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I agree with Amber, Little Women is/was my most favorite classic. I read it over and over again when I was young. I still have the copy my mom had as a young girl and a hard cover that my mom bought me later. I should re-read it. I've seen it as a play and watched the movies. I'm a sucker for anything related to Little Women. I do sometime want to read Anna Karenina. Probably, if I had someone else to read it with.

Pride and Prejudice seems to be good so far, but I haven't had enough energy to read the last week.