Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Title: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Genre: Classic, Russian literature
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This review was previously posted on my personal blog on April 25, 2008.

I finally finished Anna Karenina. All 754 pages of it. In the end, I liked it very much. I will say, however, that it was one of the more difficult classics to get through. (What helped was keeping a note card in the book on which I jotted down everyone’s names – first, last, nickname – and relationship to other characters. Those Russian diminutives can be confusing.)

After my friend Michelle read it, she said that it seemed the real story was Kitty and Levin, but that Tolstoy had to put the torrid, tragic love affair in there because no one wanted to read a book about a good man and a good woman making a marriage work and coming to faith. I think she’s right.

The thought that kept coming to mind as I read was this: no matter what era we live in, no matter what country we live in, human nature is the same.

Some people will choose to overcome their baser appetites to do what is right.

Some people will give in to their passions and lusts, and destroy their family as a result.

Some people will grow up with a childlike faith in God, and never question it.

Some people will have to overcome their intellect in order to believe.

Some people will never focus their attention on anything bigger than their own self.

Some people will love their children, worry about them, and do everything to raise them right.

Some people will see their children as a hindrance to their self-interests.

Some people will talk and talk about the horrible state of the world.

Some people will work to do something about the horrible state of the world.

Tolstoy is a remarkable writer. Russia is a place I’ve never had a desire to visit – until I read Tolstoy’s descriptions of St. Petersburg and Moscow. He made me want to visit these cities. He also made me want to live as a Russian peasant and sleep on a haystack, after eating a simple meal of bread and cheese. For a day, anyway.

I did find myself wishing that he hadn’t gone off on so many political and socio-economic rabbit trails. I wanted more of Kitty and Levin, more of Anna and Vronsky. I understand his motivation for writing that way – that he could get his political views across and actually read by people in a novel. It just wasn’t that interesting to me. The character, setting, and story – these I loved.

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10 Responses to Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  1. Melissa
    Twitter: avidreader12

    So glad you liked this one. I read it a couple years ago and I really did too. I loved Levin’s character. I thought it was fascinating that Anna and Levin are really opposite parralles of each other (if that makes sense). At first one has faith and hope and the other does not. Then, by the end of the story, they’ve completely switched positions. So much to chew on in that book. Love it.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Melissa – I hadn’t thought of it that way – what good insight! The journeys they both take are so fascinating.

  2. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion

    I’m so impressed that you tackled this book. It’s one I feel I should read, but haven’t worked up to it yet.

  3. Bonnie says:

    I read this a number of years ago, but I still remember it. I guess that’s Russian literature and the psychological and emotional impact it tends to make! Somewhat unrelated, I recall a story (whether real or apocryphal, I don’t know) that Teddy Roosevelt read Anna Karenina in three days, while riding a horse during a cattle drive. For some reason, I’ve always loved the idea — the contrast between tough and genteel, a man who goes on a cattle drive but brings one of the great romances of Russian literature with him.

  4. Marg
    Twitter: MargReads

    I loved this book when I read it a few years ago. I need to get back to War and Peace which I started last year and put down to read other books.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Marg – yes, I keep telling myself I’ll tackle some more Russian lit, but so far haven’t done it.

  5. Robin
    Twitter: robnmccormack

    I just read this one in January. I enjoyed it but wasn’t what I expected. Was a truly remarkable character study.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Robin – I had a friend who read it first and so I sort of knew what to expect. It wasn’t exactly the straight-forward torrid romance that you think it will be!