Saturday, September 11, 2021

Fiction Review: Anna Karenina

With two days to spare, I finished my biggest book of the #BigBookSummer Challenge! It took me a month, but I finished reading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Believe it or not, this was my first-ever classic Russian novel! We didn't read any in school. I enjoyed it!


The novel is set in 19th-century Russia and the title refers to Anna, a charismatic woman of the aristocratic class who is married and has a son. While visiting her brother in Moscow, she meets Count Vronsky, and the two are instantly attracted to each other and eventually begin to have an affair, making Anna's life very difficult. Divorce is almost impossible (and her husband won’t grant it without taking their son from her), so Anna is stuck in a sort of limbo. It's interesting that the title features Anna's name because there are a lot of characters, and the story follows others, too, completely apart from Anna (though they all know each other and are interrelated in many ways). My favorite characters were Levin and Kitty. Levin is a gentleman farmer who loves the land, nature, and is passionate about farming. He has some rather revolutionary ideas about how to work with the peasants who work his land so is often at odds with others of his class. The narrative moves back and forth between the stories of many different characters, though Anna and Levin are the primary ones. There is plenty of detail of life in 19th century Russia for the aristocratic class and discussions of the politics, economics, and culture of the times.


I was pleasantly surprised to find it easy to read with short chapters, no archaic language, and a lot going on. Some of the political and philosophical passages ran a bit long—it seems aristocrats enjoyed having long, convoluted intellectual discussions—but it was actually a pretty fast read considering its size. There were a lot of plot lines and characters, which kept the novel fresh and interesting. The Russian names can get to be a bit much, with each person often having three names, plus a title and a nickname! So, on the first page, we meet Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky who is often called Stiva (Anna’s brother), but I mostly got used to that and usually knew who the author was referring to! It was fascinating to read what life was like in that time and place. It's basically a Russian soap opera, following births, deaths, marriages, and affairs, though with plenty of thoughtful and insightful passages woven in. I enjoyed it and am glad to have finally read it.


864 pages, Penguin Classics

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1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on finishing this huge chunkster in time for the challenge! I have never compelted a Russian classic so I am doubly impressed.