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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sense of Self
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"

- Leo Tolstoy "Anna Karenina"

Anna Karenina is a beautifully written novel about three families: the Oblonskys, the Levins, and the Karenins. The first line (one of the most famous in literature) hints at Tolstoy's own views about happy and unhappy marriages having these...
Published on 18 Oct 2007 by Bentley

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
Tolstoy was a good writer but for me it didn't really live up to my expectations
Published 3 months ago by The Critic


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sense of Self, 18 Oct 2007
By 
Bentley (USA and England) - See all my reviews
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"

- Leo Tolstoy "Anna Karenina"

Anna Karenina is a beautifully written novel about three families: the Oblonskys, the Levins, and the Karenins. The first line (one of the most famous in literature) hints at Tolstoy's own views about happy and unhappy marriages having these same three families also represent three very different societal and physical locations in Russia in addition to distinctly different views on love, loyalty, fidelity, happiness and marital bliss.

Tolstoy seems to stress that `trusting companionships" are more durable and filled with happiness versus "romantic passion" that bursts with flames and then slowly; leaves ashes rather than a firm, solid foundation to build upon.

It is like reading a soap opera with all of its twists and turns where the observer is allowed to enter into the homes, the minds and the spirits of its main characters. The moral compass in the book belongs to Levin whose life and courtship of Kitty mirrors much of Leo Tolstoy's own courtship of his wife Sophia. Levin's personality and spiritual quest is Tolstoy's veiled attempt at bringing to life his own spiritual peaks and valleys and the self doubts that plagued him his entire life despite his happy family life and the fact that he too found love in his life and a committed durable marriage. At the other end of the spectrum is Anna, who also because of her individual choices and circumstances, falls into despair.

It is clear that Tolstoy wants the reader to come away with many messages about the sanctity of marriage, love and family life. He also wants us to be mindful of the choices that we make in life and the affect that these choices have upon ourselves, our station and path in life as well as the affect upon those that we profess to love. Tolstoy also wants us to examine what makes our lives happy or not; and what is at the root of either end result. Levin and Kitty are the happiest married couple; yet Levin faces his own double bind when struggling against domestic bliss and his need for independence on the other hand and how to achieve both (if that is possible) without relinquishing that which made him who he was born to be.

Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin are the primary protagonists in the novel and both are rich and fine characters in their own right. Both of them focus on self; one however finds the self to be a nurturer which puts value into life very much as a farmer; while the other views self with despair and as a punisher or destroyer. Both views, diametrically opposed, force the characters on very different paths and lives for themselves. Then there is the dilemma of forgiveness versus vengeance. The very epigram for the novel from Romans states: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." Yet vengeance upon oneself or others is not up to individuals but God; and yet the characters are haunted about what forgiveness is or isn't and by the hollowness of words versus heartfelt and soulfully reflective actions. The themes of social change in Russia, family life's blessings and virtues and farming (even if it is simply the goodness one puts into life and how one cultivates it and others) dominate the novel's landscape. Trains also play a symbolic importance in the novel and it is odd that Tolstoy himself years after writing Anna Karenina dies himself in a train station after setting off from his home in an emotional cloud.

Sometimes the names of the characters themselves can be confusing: so a hint to the reader might be to think of each Russian character's name as having three parts: the first name (examples here are for Levin and Kitty) like Konstantin or Ekaterina, a patronymic which is the father's first name accompanied by a suffix which means son of or daughter of like Dmitrich (son of Dmitri) or Alexandrovna (daughter of Alexander) and then the surname like Levin or Shcherbatskaya. Thus the explanations for the Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (nicknamed Kitty) and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin (Levin).

I loved the book and its details and the richness of the characterizations as well as the storytelling technique of the great Tolstoy and I have to agree with Tolstoy when he stated, "I am very proud of its architecture-its vaults are joined so that one cannot even notice where the keystone is. " The vaults: "Anna and Levin" are joined with the very first line of the novel and with their focus on themselves.

Rating: A

Bentley/2007
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greats, 6 April 2012
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
(n.b This review refers to the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation).
I'll keep this review quite short, as there are plenty of others detailing just why this is regarded as one of the all-time great novels.

As this was my first experience of reading Tolstoy, I had been slightly daunted by the literary (and literal!) weight of this novel. Happily, I found that "Anna Karenina" was instantly accessible, in terms of both narrative and style.

The story is a classic tale of a tragic love affair between the beautiful, highly-strung Anna - one of the most complex and authentic portrayals of female psychology in literature - and the passionate, ambitious Count Vronsky; two people whose intense, complicated loves are not enough to prevail over personal misunderstandings and setbacks from Russian high society. Their story is set into relief by the story of Levin, a landowner struggling with his meditations on life, love, work, religion...All of this Tolstoy deals with insightfully and with an engaging wit. The parallel stories were equally absorbing, and the tragedy of the eponymous heroine particularly moving. I believed absolutely in each of the main characters (perhaps with the exception of Kitty, the object of Levin's affection), whose virtues, vices and internal reflections are described with remarkable depth and empathy. My only criticism is that the last section is something of an anticlimax to an otherwise captivating read.

I can't comment on the comparative merits of this version, as it is the only one I have read, but I found it very fluid and bright, and I will certainly choose Pevear and Volokhonsky's translation of "War and Peace" when I get round to reading it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, 14 Aug 2012
By 
Victoria (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
As a graduate of Russian, I've often felt a bit embarrassed by the fact I have never read Tolstoy, and Anna Karenina is definitely one of those books that you intend to read but never quite pluck up the courage to tackle. Well dear readers, I have finally been brave enough to plough though it (and please pardon the pun, those of you who have already endured the endless farming philosophy within this book!) and I can safely say I am very glad I got there in the end.

Anna Karenina is a sweeping novel that follows the lives of several characters - the beautiful, fascinating Anna, her dull husband Karenin, her rogue but lovable brother Oblonsky and his long-suffering wife Dolly, Dolly's sweet sister Kitty, Oblonsky's thoughtful friend Levin, and of course the irresistible Count Alexei Vronsky... We follow them all as their lives weave in and out of each other, understanding their loves, daily business and fears. The main draw of the novel is naturally the passionate affair between Anna and Vronsky, but the novel is wider than this in its exploration, taking the reader on a journey through 19th century Russian society where we learn the strict social decorum of the time and what happens when you go against it. In parallel to the tragedy that unfolds for Anna, we follow in depth Levin's voyage to reform farming techniques on his estates and improve the lives of his peasant workers (be warned - there is a LOT on this, and some of it is pretty dry if farming isn't really your thing) as well as his heartwarming courtship of Kitty.

I have to admit to skim reading some bits of the book (the sections where Levin was debating farming and countryside politics with himself or others) but all in all they don't detract from the real beauty of the novel. This is hailed as one of the earliest instances of literary realism, and now I know why - I felt like I was living alongside these characters, and every little detail got under my skin. I agree with some other reviewers that Anna is an annoying character, and I was not that surprised that Tolstoy finally abandoned her rather viciously a section before the end, but at the same time I pitied her despair and how stifling the society of that time must have been to live in with all its rules and etiquette. It's a shame really that Tolstoy uses the novel as a vehicle for a lot of his own ideas and philosophies, and that the novel kind of trails to an end without tying up all the loose ends. However it still remains a remarkable novel and well worth the effort to read.

A note on the translation - I started reading the free Kindle download (that had been typed by teams of volunteers, apparently) because I was daunted by the size of the novel, but the translation and edition were awful (no disrespect to those volunteers, but I can't stand spelling mistakes and typos when I am reading a book.) After digging around I heard the Pevear and Volokhonsky version was the best so I gave in and bought the paperback. I am really glad I did. Their translation was impeccable and a joy to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent translation with extensive notes, 23 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This famous novel is very interesting regarding the triangle relationship of the three characters in the main plot - Anna, her husband and her lover. But, the descriptions of activities and thought of Levin, a land-owing aristocratic farmer, in the sub-plot is detailed and long since it is Tolstoy himself in real life.

The translation was done by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, a prize-winning multi-lingual husband and wife team. The texts are excellent. Also, another major advantage of this version is that, on top of a good introduction by one of the translators, there are extensive notes on Russia's historical and political background, proverbs (Russian, French and Classical Roman), Orthodox religious rituals, people's customs, literary allusions, etc. I feel that, without these detailed notes, this novel may well partially remain a "closed book" to the reader who (like me) has no Russian cultural background.

The earlier Penguin Books version - called `Anna Karenin' - was issued in the 1950s. It contains the translator's introduction running to only three pages, and has no notes at all. The current, newer version (published in 2000) is highly recommendable.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unhappy families, 13 Jan 2008
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That line opens and sets the tone of "Anna Karenina," a tangled and tragic tale of nineteenth century Russia. Tolstoy's story of lovers and family is interlaced with razor-sharp social commentary and odd moments that are almost transcendent. In other words, this is a masterpiece.

When Stepan Oblonsky has an affair with the governess, his wife says that she's leaving him, and now the family is about to disintegrate. Stepan's sister Anna arrives to smooth over their marital problems, and consoles his wife Dolly until she agrees to stay. But on the train there, she met the outspoken Countess Vronsky, and the countess's dashing son, who is semi-engaged to Dolly's sister Kitty.

Anna and Vronsky start to fall in love -- despite the fact that Anna has been married for ten years, to a wealthy husband she doesn't care about, and has a young son. Even so, Anna rejects her loveless marriage and becomes the center of scandal and public hypocrisy, and even becomes pregnany by Vronsky. As she prepares to jump ship and get a divorce, Anna becomes a victim of her own passions...

That isn't the entire story, actually -- Tolstoy weaves in other plots, about disintegrating families, new marriages, and the melancholy Levin's constant search for God, truth, and goodness. Despite the grim storyline about adultery, and the social commentary, there's an almost transcendent quality to some of Tolstoy's writing. It's the most optimistic tragic book I've ever read.

For some reason, Tolstoy called this his "first novel," even though he had already written some before that. Perhaps it's because "Anna Karenina" tackles so many questions and themes, and does so without ever dropping the ball. No wonder it's so long and imposing -- Tolstoy covered a lot of ground in here.

And while "Anna Karenina" was not the first book he wrote, it is probably the deepest and most moving. Tolstoy steeps the book in social commentary, and his personal philosophies. It's also one of those books that takes a very long time to move itself forward -- Tolstoy's writing is slow and ponderous, with a lot of serious discussion about religion and relationships. But his intense, slightly rough writing is worth it.

In some tragic books, you get the feeling that the author really despises his characters, and doesn't really care what happens to them. Tolstoy never gives you that feeling -- no matter how annoying his characters are, they always have something interesting or endearing. No caricatures at all -- even Anna's irritating, arrogant brother is given some quirks to make him seem real.

Oddly enough, the most moving character here is not Anna, but Konstantin Levin -- the tortured, passionate landowner is so earnest that it's difficult not to care about him. Apparently he was Tolstoy's alter ego, which explains his depth. But Anna and Vronsky are strong leads, a passionate pair who are both selfish and seductive, but never boring.

A beautiful look at living right vs. living wrong, "Anna Karenina" is a truly magnificent book. This book is undoubtedly Tolstoy's opus, and a stunning look at human nature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sense of Self, 18 Oct 2007
By 
Bentley (USA and England) - See all my reviews
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"

- Leo Tolstoy "Anna Karenina"

Anna Karenina is a beautifully written novel about three families: the Oblonskys, the Levins, and the Karenins. The first line (one of the most famous in literature) hints at Tolstoy's own views about happy and unhappy marriages having these same three families also represent three very different societal and physical locations in Russia in addition to distinctly different views on love, loyalty, fidelity, happiness and marital bliss.

Tolstoy seems to stress that `trusting companionships" are more durable and filled with happiness versus "romantic passion" that bursts with flames and then slowly; leaves ashes rather than a firm, solid foundation to build upon.

It is like reading a soap opera with all of its twists and turns where the observer is allowed to enter into the homes, the minds and the spirits of its main characters. The moral compass in the book belongs to Levin whose life and courtship of Kitty mirrors much of Leo Tolstoy's own courtship of his wife Sophia. Levin's personality and spiritual quest is Tolstoy's veiled attempt at bringing to life his own spiritual peaks and valleys and the self doubts that plagued him his entire life despite his happy family life and the fact that he too found love in his life and a committed durable marriage. At the other end of the spectrum is Anna, who also because of her individual choices and circumstances, falls into despair.

It is clear that Tolstoy wants the reader to come away with many messages about the sanctity of marriage, love and family life. He also wants us to be mindful of the choices that we make in life and the affect that these choices have upon ourselves, our station and path in life as well as the affect upon those that we profess to love. Tolstoy also wants us to examine what makes our lives happy or not; and what is at the root of either end result. Levin and Kitty are the happiest married couple; yet Levin faces his own double bind when struggling against domestic bliss and his need for independence on the other hand and how to achieve both (if that is possible) without relinquishing that which made him who he was born to be.

Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin are the primary protagonists in the novel and both are rich and fine characters in their own right. Both of them focus on self; one however finds the self to be a nurturer which puts value into life very much as a farmer; while the other views self with despair and as a punisher or destroyer. Both views, diametrically opposed, force the characters on very different paths and lives for themselves. Then there is the dilemma of forgiveness versus vengeance. The very epigram for the novel from Romans states: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." Yet vengeance upon oneself or others is not up to individuals but God; and yet the characters are haunted about what forgiveness is or isn't and by the hollowness of words versus heartfelt and soulfully reflective actions. The themes of social change in Russia, family life's blessings and virtues and farming (even if it is simply the goodness one puts into life and how one cultivates it and others) dominate the novel's landscape. Trains also play a symbolic importance in the novel and it is odd that Tolstoy himself years after writing Anna Karenina dies himself in a train station after setting off from his home in an emotional cloud.

Sometimes the names of the characters themselves can be confusing: so a hint to the reader might be to think of each Russian character's name as having three parts: the first name (examples here are for Levin and Kitty) like Konstantin or Ekaterina, a patronymic which is the father's first name accompanied by a suffix which means son of or daughter of like Dmitrich (son of Dmitri) or Alexandrovna (daughter of Alexander) and then the surname like Levin or Shcherbatskaya. Thus the explanations for the Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (nicknamed Kitty) and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin (Levin).

I loved the book and its details and the richness of the characterizations as well as the storytelling technique of the great Tolstoy and I have to agree with Tolstoy when he stated, "I am very proud of its architecture-its vaults are joined so that one cannot even notice where the keystone is. " The vaults: "Anna and Levin" are joined with the very first line of the novel and with their focus on themselves.

Rating: A

Bentley/2007
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blooming marvellous!, 31 Jan 2012
By 
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I bought this before going on holiday, more as a challenge than anything else- to get through it and then tick it off my list of Classic Books.

What a surprise- it's rich, lively, and still feels freshly-crafted. Moves along at a good pace. It's grand but not aloof, and very enjoyable. As you'd expect, it's packed with deep insights about men, women, the human condition, etc.

This translation makes it accessible, brings it into the 21st Century. The main themes and the characters come across superbly well as they presumably do in the original Russian.

Yes there are some big-picture philosophical ramblings about God and faith but they don't break the stride of the narrative and indeed work well as part of the story.

A tip: Wait till you've read the book before reading the introduction as although it has some nice extra background on the book, it does give away the ending.

Full marks to author and translators!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very few criticisms, 13 July 2014
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Certainly one of the better classics. As usual with nineteenth century novels (especially those on such a grand scale), Anna Karenina does tend to give a hell of a lot of detail on relatively minor characters, or, for that matter, simply detail with very little relevance to the plot. Don't let the title (or the movie) fool you - this is not simply about Anna Karenina's affair with Count Vronsky and its aftermath, this is a collection of at least four or five significant characters and their lives which only become interlinked with Anna's towards the end. Levin in particular seems completely detached from the titular heroine right up until the end, and although his discussions and debates about nineteenth century Russia's agricultural and social problems may have been interesting in the 1870s, the leisurely reader may find them somewhat dull, especially considering a lack of contextual information. Aside from these minor criticisms, which may be more a critique of the reader than the author, Anna Karenina is well worth the effort - most of Tolstoy's characters are interesting (and some definitely likeable) both as subjects and in their interaction with other characters. My only advice would be to not go in expecting a simple story of a love affair, and don't worry too much about Levin's agricultural ideas.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel of towering stature, 24 Aug 2006
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Having read 'War and Peace', I bought this book with the expectation that it would be a worthwhile slog, full of wisdom but no page turner. I was wrong: it was very difficult to put down and I enjoyed it immensely. Happily though, I was right about the wisdom bit, and it has supplied plenty of material now fermenting in the brain. This is without doubt up there with the best books I've read.

The story is very large in scale, dealing with many characters (the main ones are listed in the front) over a period of some years. The main narrative drive comes from the relationships of two couples, one an extra-marital affair. As the novel progresses, these relationships follow divergent trajectories, one doomed, the other blessed. Tolstoy is therefore able to turn the illuminating spotlight of his compassionate insight on large areas of human experience. The story is a compelling one, well paced and absorbing, and with a natural, snapshot-of-life, feel as opposed to being contrived in a Dickensian way.

The characters themselves are a bit larger than life, though very human. Tolstoy handles each one with understanding and compassion, and clearly has great love for them all. He frequently switches from one character's point of view to another's, and we are always able to understand and to sympathise with their motivation, noble or otherwise. The four main characters in particular are utterly convincing, and you feel for them very much.

As in 'War and Peace', Tolstoy uses the novel to express some of his philosophical and political ideas. The central character, Levin, who you feel is closely related to the writer himself, is constantly battling with very large ideas, presumeably reflecting Tolstoy's own mental life at the time. The existence of God, the inevitability of death, and the value of reason are all dealt with in depth. Tolstoy clearly believes that logical argument is futile and unpersuasive, and seeks, through Levin, to hint at the truths he can see plainly. Some of this is very convincing, and it is partly, perhaps, this philosophical ability that sets Tolstoy apart as one of the truly great writers.

As far as this edition in particular is concerned, I didn't bother with the introduction (I rarely do, as editors almost always miss the point of an +intro+duction, it seems to me, by assuming that you have read the book already - this was no exception), but the notes were in general quite pertinent and informative, particulalry about Russian history. The prose flowed quite nicely, and the language was modern but not to a gimmicky extent. The fact that it was a translation didn't seem to get in the way too much as it sometimes can, though I haven't read any other translations of 'AK' so I'm in no position to recommend this one over any others.

Don't be afraid to take this wonderful book on, it really is a fantastic read. My advice is to take it on holiday with you as I did, or at least wait until you've got a lot of reading time, because I think it might get more difficult (e.g. with the very confusing plethora of interchangeable names) if you let the momentum drop. You will be rewarded with a life-enriching experience, and a whole new perspective on the enigma that is life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars anna karenina, 24 Aug 2011
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This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This will be a short review because I just want to impress on anyone who is thinking about reading this book that they should delay no longer. It is a wonderful and compassionate book that works on every level - Tolstoy's insight, his writing,the characters, the story, the description of a long gone society. It is totally understandable why so many readers and critics alike rate it as their favourite book. This is an excellent translation - if you didn't know better you might think that the novel was originally written in English.
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