Book Reviews, Classics

Anna Karenina Anna Karenina (Barnes & Noble Classics) (9781593080273): Leo  Tolstoy, George Stade, Constance Garnett, Amy Mandelker: Books

Title: Anna Karenina

Author: Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classics

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


“She was enchanting in her simple black dress, enchanting were her full arms with the bracelets on them, enchanting her firm neck with its string of pearls, enchanting her curly hair in disarray, enchanting the graceful, light movements of her small feet and hands, enchanting that beautiful face in its animation; but there was something terrible and cruel in her enchantment.”

There is something very special and enjoyable about reading a magnificent 1,000 page long Russian tale woven and written by one of literature’s greatest storyteller’s. This story is ultimately about a captivating woman and a non-conformist farmer, but it is also about so, so, so much more. It’s about Stepan Arkadyvich – reckless but still somehow likeable, Alexei Alexandrovich – despite never having done anything technically wrong you somehow lose all sympathy for him, Kitty – you love her for her glamour and then stay for her sweetness and Dolly, Serzoyha and of course… our man, Vronsky.

Anna is mesmerising to read about. Tolstoy crafts the story so that you at first see her as an outsider from Kitty’s perspective – her “enchanting” appearance and demeanour – how she is able to soothe over Dolly’s issues with ease, become best friends with the children and instantly win Kitty’s heart. Her downfall spans one thousand pages and none can be more engrossing and heart-wrenching to read about.

Tolstoy manages to take the well-known story of a passionate affair transgressing societal norms, causing an outrage in which the woman bears the brunt of the shame, scorn and consequences – and turn it into a masterpiece, so that after centuries of having heard this same story in so many different forms, this book does not fail to fascinate. It was particularly the perfectly flawed characterisation of each individual in this book that kept me riveted – Tolstoy skilfully ensures that each character is wonderfully multidimensional with both repulsing and redeeming qualities – and I most enjoyed this aspect of the book. Towards the end of the book, I especially loved the depth of the insight we are given into the minds of Anna and Vronsky. Tolstoy so realistically portrays the essence of human relationships and interactions, down to all the petty details – so that it all almost feels uncannily familiar to human nature and behaviour.

Many reviews warned me about the misleading title, this book is not just about Anna – a large chunk is devoted to Levin’s POV, where Tolstoy explores political and spiritual questions and thoughts that were plaguing him at the time – reflected through the character of Konstantin Levin. I was surprised that the pages and pages on farming and Levin’s mundane interactions with the muzhiks failed to bore me, and in fact kept me interested – and I found myself actually thinking about everything Levin said instead of letting it so easily go over my head, particularly the political aspect. I will say, what did bore me to death were the long and drawn-out debates and arguments on literally anything and everything under the sun – whatever concerned Levin’s brother, Ivan, for instance, felt like such a chore to read. But this was wholly overpowered by every other aspect of this book that I loved, leaving it at 5 stars. I especially loved reading about Levin’s family life and I undoubtedly found Alexei Alexandrovich’s POV the most boring and by the end they were strangest (spoiler, highlight>I felt quite uncomfortable reading about the odd relationship between him and Lydia, and it was quite baffling to see how such a learned and intelligent man may succumb himself to such bizarre engagements as the strange incident regarding the French men, and that he may so willingly surrender his independence to Countess Lydia in matters regarding Serzoyha and his divorce<.

By the time I was 50% through this book, I was completely invested in the story and was totally swallowed up – thoroughly enjoying each and every POV and appreciating the masterful characterisation at every turn of the page, so that I found even the brief moments with 9-year-old Serzoyha to be so realistic of exactly what a 9-year-old boy in his time, place and situation would behave – it did tug at my heart strings. As the book continued, Levin’s POV went from being my least favourite (compared to Anna’s) to being my favourite – and Levin went from being my least favourite character to my favourite, Anna went from my favourite character to my least favourite. I found her to be increasingly annoying, and began to empathise more with Vronsky’s situation and perspective. But of course, I understand the entrapped nature of her situation as a woman in society at that time.

All in all, this book is profound. I was surprised by how boldly Tolstoy tackled massive subjects such as the existence of God in the final few chapters. I enjoyed this book extremely, and this is one of those books that contribute to making classics my favourite genre.

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