Customer Review

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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