on 27 March 2012
Having thought that Tolstoy would be dry and heavy going, for some reason I picked a nicely bound hard back copy of this in Dorset a few months back. It took me some time to summon up the courage to 'start it up', given its 900 plus pages in length. However like my old Toyota that has taken me to Biarritz last week, both are going strong once started.
What it certainly is not is dry or turgid. It flows easily and has you on the edge-it races on and one cannot put it down. I take i to the beach daily and am now nearly finished. The issues raised are as alive today as they were in 19th century Russia. Issues such as : love, infidelity, morality, divorce, love of ones children (even) -role of women in society-sex/politics/class/ etc. and all introduced seemlessly in a book that deals with the relationships between a group of people-some related and others not so. A beautiful woman who one assumes is the central character of the book, from its title, is but one in a maelstrom of relationships that are constantly changing over time. What is original I find is the way Tolstoy makes you try and identify personally with the feelings of each character at different junctures in their lives and you find your sympathies altering as they find themselves in changing circumstances.
The book is captivating from the outset and draws you in and makes you question even your own position and relationships. a feature of the book i find extremely clever is how Tolstoy makes characters forever changing under different circumstances-as we all do but maybe don't realise.
I haven't read any other reviews and have no idea if they see anything that i have in the work. It is one of the best reads and greatest books I have read, both in its style and substance.
on 11 April 2001
I read Anna Karenina for the hype - so many people talk of it being one of the best books ever written. And I was interested in Tolstoy, who is a fascinating character.
At time of reading, I found the novel okay. The characters came alive on the page, and many of the scenes in the novel were beautifully delineated. But I found the pace too slow, and was bored by all Levin's socio-political musings on Russia at that time.
Months later, and I find that the book still resonantes in my mind. I find myself still thinking about Anna and her fate; about that excruciating moment where Karenin approaches total forgiveness and then veers away; about Dolly, Kitty and Oblonsky. About how different the world of Anna Karenina is from my own, in some ways, but still so relevant. And the differences are illuminating.
In this novel, Tolstoy manages to weave together a whole world of stories and people and events. I can't really describe it other than saying that it is a very very human story. Greater than the sum of its parts.
Don't read this book if you think you might become impatient 'getting through' it. It deserves better that that. But if you're reading these reviews wondering whether it's worth taking all that time to read one of the world's reputed classics, then my anonymous 25-year-old word, for what it's worth, is that yes, it definitely is.
on 13 May 2009
I comment not on the book, but this edition. I assume few people will be convinced of the classic's merits (or lack thereof) based on an online review. However, I would like to alert the potential customer that this edition is positively riddled with typos. The notes, table of contents, and the actual pagination do not at all line up; the letter "l" is replaced by a "]" at times, dozens of words are clearly misspelled, a time is given as 8.2 pm; the list goes on. I have no idea whether or not the translation is faithful to the Russian; I do know it is far from faithful to the conventions of standard written English.
on 5 September 2012
Louise and Aylmer Maude's translation, as used by Wordsworth Classics, is by far the best translation of Anna Karenina. They translated what Tolstoy wrote, rather than putting their own spin on things, as Peaver and Volkhonsky have done. The Maude translation is also better than Garnett's groundbreaking work which tends to get a bit lost in places.
The famous opening lines, as translated by the Maudes read thus:
"All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"
This is exactly how Tolstoy wrote it in the original Russian and it is exactly what he wanted the reader to understand.
However, the Peaver/Volkhonsky version translates Tolsoy's words slightly differently:
"All happy families are the same...etc"
This subtle difference may not not seem important but in fact it is very important. "Resemble" does not mean "the same" and the difference in approach to translation between the Maudes and Peaver is quite striking and makes a huge difference to the overall reading experience. While the Maudes give us, as near as possible, what Tolstoy actually wrote, given the sometimes impossible to translate differences between English and Russian, the Peavers give us the same story but not in the language that Tolstoy intended. What they give us is a slightly dry, modernised and ultimately flat reading of a what was once a beautifully written novel.
Garnett mis-translates the opening in her own fashion:
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
We may forgive Constance her errors simply because she was the one who first gave the great Russian writers to the English speaking world. But there are now better translations.
If you want to read Anna Karenina in language, nuance and meaning as intended by Tolstoy, read the Maude translation.
on 9 January 2007
"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way". With this opening the reader is brought at the heart of the novel: family life and the lives led by the separate members of families. The idea of a novel about the grand monde had long haunted Tolstoy as well as writing about a married lady of that world who would ruin herself. The two lovers, Anna and Vronsky think that in their relationship they can escape society, but find they cannot. Without the freedom of the society they live in their passion becomes a kind of prison. Their entourage is too much part of them: they need it too much and the attempt to do without it destroys them both.
All the characters in Anna Karenina are intensely real: the peasants in the fields, the people in Moscow, Stiva, Levin, Kitty, the Shcherbatskys. They all know each other, they live in the same world with the rest of the Russian upper class. The inner mental life and struggle of Levin reflects Tolstoy's own state of mind at the time he was writing. He had conservative views on marriage and childrearing which he thought were a woman's duty.
Is the novel out of date? Would Anna today get a divorce, marry Vronsky and live happily ever after? Tolstoy didn't think so Tragedies like that of Anna Karenina do not depend on social change and enlightened social arrangements.
on 27 June 2016
Most of people thinks that this book is the greatest roman of all times. And from one side they are right. Strong characters, strong emotions, especially the main character Anna - strong, and sincere woman. It looks like she has everything in her life - loving husband, great child, but still feels emptiness in her heart and soul. Many of us feels exactly the same way, you will admit. Book is very very realistic and author Leo Tolstoy shows perfectly the society and identity of the XIX century Russia. The ending was expected and unexpected from some point. The book is called classics not without a reason.
on 22 July 2005
This for me is the best Tolstoy. The story is excellent and Tolstoy's description of salon society in Tsarist Russia is fascinating. In a way Anna's fall from grace is similar to bonfire of the vanities. Tolstoy does tend to set up each chapter with about 5-10 pages of desriptive prose on agricultural woes or other countryside news, but once we get back to the story it is excellent.
on 16 August 2010
I recently decided to read Anna Karenina after having started it before but never really being drawn in by it. I cannot express how glad I am that I pursued it. Admittedly some of the Russian history and politics went a little over my head, but now, 4 weeks later, I still can not stop thinking about all of those characters which Tolstoy so marvelously created. For someone who rarely cries over a book, I found the portrayal of Levin during the birth of his son particularly moving. Very much recommended!
"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.
For the relatively small expenditure of a few pounds I immersed myself, for several days, in one of the most magnificent examples of art available in any medium. To add to the hype seems superfluous. The story holds its own dignity amongst many fine examples in world literature. Tolstoy's exceptional talent captures the vast expanse of human experience and thought through the lives and loves of some of the most finely crafted fictional characters ever created. The subtlety of this work lies in the manner in which the various characters interact within the moral constraints of the novel's setting: the aristocratic playground (Petersburg, Moscow and the rural estate) of late Tsarist Russia. For such an immense country the few privileged members of Russian (suffocatingly nepotistic) Society are able to attract the best jobs, lucrative marriages and most of the agriculturally profitable land. This sphere of wealth, power and social dominance infects all Tolstoy's characters with varying degrees of hilarity, wit, intelligence, irony, angst, bitterness and sadness. Some of the best examples of Tolstoy's art are to be found at the races, in the spa resort, the deathbed scene, local authority elections and during the many 'intellectual' debates. But Tolstoy's real literary magic and the force driving forward the story are manifested in the internal thoughts and physical quirks of the main characters. Attributes we all possess and can recognise. It is this aspect of the novel that I adored the most; at times the emotional intensity was overwhelming.