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11 of 11 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

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18 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nineteenth century scandal
Upon learning that Anna Karenina had won a place in the BBC's Top One-Hundred Books list, I thought it was about time I gave it a read. Being approximately eight hundred pages in length and having been translated from its original Russian, it was no mean feat, I assure you. I enjoyed the opening immensely; Tolstoy begins the book with news of a household in chaos, with...
Published on 22 Dec. 2003 by Victoria Craven


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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warning, 16 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
If you are reading Anna Karenina for the first time and you have not seen the film beforehand then be warned. Do not read the introduction. It tells you the ending and may ruin your enjoyment of the book. How the editor allowed this to happen I do not know. He should have insisted on an oblique reference to the ending if one were needed that second time readers would understand without giving the game away to the unsuspecting first time reader. I was very disappointed. I am not disappointed with the book itself. I am enjoying it very much. I just wish I was on holiday and had more time to get stuck in. I am reading one chapter per night before sleep which means I should have finished it by October 2014. Not a book to be rushed. And by that time I may just have forgotten the ending with any luck.
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5 of 6 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
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Paperback)
"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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4.0 out of 5 stars You Get Out Of It What You Put In, 29 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The story was quite complex and even though its called Anna Karenina, it not only follows her betrayal and the subsequent consequences of that betrayal but it also follows closely the life of Konstantin Levin (quite a portion of the book is devoted to his incessant thinking from agricultural pursuits to philosophy and the meaning of life and whether God exists). The story also touches on Anna's brother and his family. Having read a little about Tolstoy himself, I understand the complexity of the book a lot more.

The premise of the story was interesting however there were parts that were extremely tedious and long. I understand that in the era that it was written they didn't have a lot to do so when reading they didn't want short books however I do feel some of it was a little bit too much. Then again that depends on who the book is aimed at. If Tolstoy was aiming at people interested in long thought processes about agriculture, politics and philosophy then he achieved that however I think people see the premise of the story and assume its just a highly dramatic love story - it is so much more than that.

It was strange because i wasn't drawn into the story right from the beginning and there were large parts that dragged however there were some parts that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough (or tap the screen because it was on my eReader ;) ).

I liked most of the characters except for Anna. At the beginning i didn't mind her so much however towards the end i started to really dislike her. I think Tolstoy really drove his point home that loving one person without anything else in your life is really not enough and drives you to insanity. I have to say that the characters were extremely well developed, however with the length and content of the book you would expect that!

Something that I found difficult throughout was the constant phrases in French. I feel like I missed out on quite a bit because I didn't understand what was being said.

I have to say that the ending was not what I expected (in some aspects). However it does in a way make sense. Basically without spoiling it, the story is about two very different people's lives and what happiness means to them and their purpose in living. His views are certainly shown in how only living your life for God will truly give you peace.

Overall I really did enjoy the book, despite some of the tedious parts. I didn't cheat like my Mum who skipped those parts, I read everything word for word!

I would definitely recommend this book however not really as a lighthearted, quick read more as a philosophical romance (if there is such a thing!) and i would say one thing - you get out of it what you put in.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Medicine, 15 May 2012
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I have just finished `Anna Karenina', for the first time. Recently I read `War and Peace', for the first time since boyhood.

Both novels completely blew me away. War and Peace is more enjoyable, for me the characters are much more likeable. I didn't really warm to any of the characters in Anna, and for me the territory explored by the novel, set in late nineteenth century Russia, is much more difficult. War and Peace is a war story with splendid characters, and with them a celebration of the spirit of Russia and a meditation on politics, leadership, and such philosophical considerations as free will and so on. Anna Karenina, on the other hand, is a discussion of the intricacies of marriage and relationships with a comprehensiveness only rivalled in my reading by Doris Lessing's `Golden Notebook'. Lessing incidentally admires the nineteenth century novel and works from its traditions. Tolstoy is interested in the effects of social attitudes to divorce and the context both of Christianity both personal and schematic and also the influence of modern intellectual attitudes.

As I say, Tolstoy's approach, like Lessing's, is rigorous and comprehensive, and both courageous and confident.

To say that this novel gave me food for thought , at the age of 62, is an understatement.

Incidentally I read the Magarshack transation in Signet which I quite liked, it flows well. However there are no notes and no translations of the French and occasional German in the text. Also I didn't find the academic introduction of much interest.
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5 of 6 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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5.0 out of 5 stars Tolstoy's bodice ripper; or tales of the landed gentry before the revolution rolled through the land, 7 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Written in the 1870s, this novel, is set in what appears a golden age in pre-revolution Russia. And for all of Tolstoy's liberalism, it is a story of the landed aristocracy with a somewhat romantic picturing of peasant/serf bondage to the land. They perform mundane work, which is hard and long; are paid little but seem to know their place in life; which is serve the main characters of this novel, the wealthy and profligate landowners. They the protagonists, struggle with doubt or debt and of course love. But Tolstoy is a master of writing, passages spring to life and a range of topics get an airing including death, marriage, land reform, politics, horse racing and endless discussion on philosophy and agriculture. But it is love and the doomed, tragic heroine, Anna Karenina which is centre to this story. Except on this the second reading (the last in 1975), I found Ms Karenina a bit vain and self obsessed and not the heroine of memory. In fact, it now reads like a classical literary bodice ripper. However, at 800 pages, it is a surprisingly easy, absorbing and stimulating read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 12 Sept. 2011
By 
Sally Walker (Eastbourne, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I have spent my summer with Anna Karenina, beginning and ending my days with her. This is my first Tolstoy and I have enjoyed reading this piece of his illustrious work enormously. The narrative unfolds slowly over many pages, so if you are used to and prefer quick paced and exciting drama then this book is probably not for you. In addition this is not a book that you can put down one day and pick up a few days later, because you will have lost the plot and an understanding of who is who and who relates to whom. Once you start this book you have to keep up a steady pace with it.

It is an intelligent and in-depth study, if you like, of one central relationship - Karenina and Vronksy and two others, Darya and Stiva and Kitty and Levin. All are inter-connected by birth or marriage except Vronksy the disturber of Anna's equilibrium. What is exceptional about this book is that you enter each of the main character's thought processes, thus we live inside their heads through their difficult situations, their more mundane moments and their highs, although the latter are somewhat scarce. But this does not matter this is not a depressing book at all. It is a portrayal of human existence and the tanglings that we are prone to get caught up in and the effect of such tanglings on our emotions.

Tolstoy is admirable, not least, for giving us this life in the raw narrative. He does not flinch from describing his character's conflicting and contradictory thoughts and feelings. As an example, when Anna after meeting Vronksy for the first time, having immediately before been missing her young son terribly after a short time apart, upon seeing her son who she had felt to be the most precious person alive to her, feels disappointed him in and less than she felt for him not fifteen minutes before.

This book has many layers and the more one reflects upon it the greater the number of layers one finds within it. Thus it is a window into pre-revolution aristocratic Russian life, now read all the more poignantly after the event. At the time that Tolstoy wrote this book the revolution was all to come in the next century, but he gives hints of mounting dissent within the ranks of the `ordinary' rank and file of Russia's populace. The aristocratic life was vacuous, with idle minds and hands turn to trifling occupations, thoughts and gossip. Matters that do not need to be fretted over become of exaggerated importance. Their life is contrasted at certain points with that of the agricultural peasant, whom Levin most times envies their way of life.

More importantly Tolstoy's work is another example of the illustration of the inequalities between the sexes, thus it is alright for men to have affairs but woe betide a woman when she strays from the marital bed. Anna receives the ultimate punishment from her husband, a punishment that ultimately she cannot endure with the inevitable outcome. The feisty Anna is the exception, however, with all other female characters being dutifully submissive and waiting for things to happen to them, rather than bringing them about for themselves, but such was life 140 years ago.

Another layer to this work is the spirituality that he has peppered his narrative with, which intensifies particularly at the end of the book. This is Tolstoy giving us the contents of his head and really one feels that many of the characters portray the conflicting thoughts and emotions of Tolstoy. (Having become sufficiently interested and intrigued in the man who wrote this genius piece of work I am next to read a biography of Tolstoy to find out if this is indeed true). Tolstoy too makes many philosophical postulations about the meaning of life through his character Levin, who is able to view his life and that of others from outside of themselves and to ask difficult and un-answerable questions.

If I have one criticism it is that after the cataclysmic event that Vronksy experiences we do not discover how he feels about it, instead he is mentioned by a third party as going off to fight the Servians. What becomes of him we never learn. Similarly Anna's husband and son are left in Moscow well before the book ends and we hear no more about them. The book really dribbles to an end in a stream of philosophical musings told through Levin and his connections with his family, friends and tenants. There is no obvious end that neatly ties up all the loose threads. But this does not diminish this masterpiece.

For those with stamina a must read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It isn't as difficult as you might think, 26 May 2008
By 
SJSmith (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I was apprehensive about reading this book. I have no idea why but I was. I'd had this book on my shelves for 5 years and a friend said they had a copy - why didn't we read it together. So we did. It helped knowing someone was reading it with me, however I didn't need it as support in the end but I thoroughly enjoyed our discussions. This book is marvellous and I can't believe I have left it so long to read it. I would even consider reading it again at some point and I would love to watch a film version of it. It was marvellous!

I think the length was what initially put me off, plus it's a 'classic' and aren't they meant to be boring and not much fun? Not this one. It is a good job though that Tolstoy is such a good writer though, as the print is very challenging - it's quite condensed, making an already lengthy novel seem even more difficult. Enough is known about this novel, I think, to not go into the plot but in case you don't know about it; there is a helpful list of characters at the front of the novel. Combine this with an excellent notes section at the back and you are in for a compelling read.

There were a few sections where I was itching for something else to happen, I wasn't as interested in the farming sections as some might be but they were equally as well written. His description of the characters is excellent, they are so vividly portrayed that they are they right in front of you. Cleverly written, with hidden details that you have to search for this novel will not disappoint. I will definitely go on to read more Tolstoy, preferrably with the same translators as I feel this had a huge impact on my enjoyment.

I enjoyed doing a little research as I was reading - I did find the Oprah site useful for futher information as it had been one of her reading group reads. It was interesting to see how much of Tolstoy himself and his life appears in the plot and characters.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything that a novel should be, 2 Jun. 2006
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy reaches the height of the C19th psychological novel and to read it is to live it. More accessible than War and Peace (also a great novel) it tells the parallel stories of Kitty and Levin's courtship and marriage (Levin was the closest thing Tolstoy ever wrote to a self-portrait) and the adulterous affair between Anna and the dashing Vronsky. The two relationships move in parallel directions, one towards happiness and fulfillment, the other to disappointment, disillusion and death.

Unlike the kind of throw-away fiction that is so often published today, this is a book that creates a whole world in which you can live while reading it: everything is real - the characters, the environment, the timeless dilemma of how to live life.

I have read and re-read this and so have had to buy a new copy as the old one literally fell to pieces in my hands, and each time is like a new experience. Please, please ditch the Dan Brown/Kate Mosse and give this a try.
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Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics)
Anna Karenina (Penguin Classics) by Leo Tolstoy (Paperback - 30 Jan. 2003)
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