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Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

 
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Posted September 4, 2016 by

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy – 1877

Reviewed by: James F. Welch          Date: 20 February 2003

Really, this is a 10-star book. Tolstoy makes one feel as though they are really in the scene he describes. He is one of the most cinematic of writers. I have a great many mental pictures of what the story describes, which is part of the reason why I cannot watch any of the movies made about this story. I feel that none of them would do it justice. And, anyway, Tolstoy already made the movie.

I think what makes this work “great literature” is that it presents 2 responses to the question: “What is the meaning of life?” Levin constantly struggles with this and finally comes to some kind of peace with the question and with life itself. Anna struggles with the same issues, but ultimately can come up with no other answer than death. She starts out on top of the world and then descends. Levin starts off at the opposite pole and then, eventually, comes to some kind of happiness and answer to his existential questions. I have read this book 3 times and find it as fulfilling each time.

A very interesting and beautiful (tragically, in part) story.

Reviewed by: Liliana Rodriguez Maynez           Date: 15 April 2003

I think this is one of the best books I have ever read. It is a novel, but not a “trendy” one. Tolstoi plays with the characters’ feelings in a way that only masters can do.

The struggle that Anna, a married nice woman, goes through by taking a young man who is already “meant” to be for a younger, nice girl is perfectly described. She was just trying to find out what happiness was, regardless of what society dictates. Of course there are many other interesting characters with their own struggles trying to find out what happiness is, but Anna’s was the most striking to me (although she seemed to be having an effect on everybody else’s life!).

I also loved the description of the seasons. It was so vivid and perfectly tied to the feelings most commonly associated with each one. I highly recommend the book!

~

Reviewed by: Gennifer            Date: 15 November 2002

An excellent book indeed, but nonetheless disturbing. Possibly I am the only one who sees it this way, but Levin is pompous jerk. His need to conquer Kitty is disdainful in the highest manner. Even though he knows that she was not in love with him, he still tortures her by marrying her. He must believe in his heart that she loved him before even though it was quite obvious that she did not love him to the degree which he loved her. The idea that he would settle so easily to be her ‘second’ choice is disturbing in and of itself.

Of course other than my rather foul report on Levin, the book was wonderful. Possibly Tolstoy could use a class about the economy of language, but I would never ask a Russian to ever learn anything about that. 🙂

~

Reviewed by: Guillermo Maynez             Date: 12 November 2002

I won’t sum up the book, as the story is widely known. I don’t know either if I agree with Dave (review below) in that this is my favorite novel of all time, but it surely is one of my favourites.

I agree with Dave in the central subject of the book: the contrast between passion/lust/impulsiveness and true love/discipline/tenderness. My favorite character of the book is not Anna (hey, if I had been Vronsky I would have gone for her, sure), but Konstantin Levin. Although as a reflective and thinking human being he is assaulted by doubts, anguish and makes mistakes, he is always true to himself. His love is not the desire for a one-night stand with the pretty and nice woman he loves, but the deep wish to conquer her and live with her for the rest of his life, something he accomplishes by remaining faithful to her and never giving up. The long passages when Levin expresses his thoughts during his nice walks around his estate are among the best of the book. And he practices what he preaches, as we can see when he works side by side with his peasants. This book is full of the best literature you can find and will make you love it.

Reviewed by: Dave            Date: 19 December 2001

This is a six-star book. For the longest time I have been reticent to write a review of Anna for fear of not being able to do the book justice. I still have that fear, but the time has come to at least say that this is my favorite novel of all time. I refer to the Magarshack translation which I have read and now re-read. I can’t imagine a more intriguing story… admittedly however, it would help if the reader had an interest in the world that Tolstoy inhabited. There are so many (often lengthy) asides into his thoughts on abstention from worldly riches / social reconstruction etc. Tolstoy gets his character Levin to do reams of his own preaching on these subjects but again, because I find Tolstoy himself to be one of the most interesting characters Russia has ever produced, I don’t mind finding him so obviously entrenched in his own story here.

But “Anna” is first and foremost a LOVE story which depicts the fleeting and disastrous effects of tempestuous/undisciplined love (Anna and Vronsky) over against the lasting and mutually beneficial results of patient/disciplined love (Levin and Kitty). This book is an important masterpiece without rival in literature. Reading such a book on one’s death-bed would not be a waste of time.

When I think of Anna, I am reminded of something that Solzhenitsyn made one of his fictional characters say in his book The First Circle:

“In the 17th century there was Rembrandt, and there is Rembrandt today. Just try to improve on him. And yet the technology of the 17th century now seems primitive to us. Or take the technological innovations of the 1870’s. For us they’re child’s play. But that was when Anna Karenina was written. What can you name that’s superior?”

Read Anna… and you will be as silent as I am on that one!

Anna Karenina
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