3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A wonderfully true, insightful classic,
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Paperback)
This book was my first foray into Russian literature, and I could not have had a better introduction. Tolstoy has a way of phrasing the thoughts and feelings of the characters that is so insightful, precise and identifiable that it easily transcends the innumerable differences between a modern reader and the selection of people he focuses on living in nineteenth century Russia. They are all incredibly psychologically developed and I felt as if I knew them all personally and could predict how they might react in any given situation. Tolstoy also colours his narrative so that it is seen through the eyes of the different characters, giving the reader many different viewpoints from which to perceive events and settings and so making the novel very rich. A scene from the perspective of Oblonsky, for example, is light, frivolous and faintly cynical, whereas the same situation seen through Levin's eyes is thoughtful and earnest.
Unfortunately, while the human drama of the novel has stood the test of time admirably, much of Tolstoy's social commentary has not fared so well. The sections on social economy, agriculture and political systems may have ben fascinating to a contemporary Russian reader but I found them lengthy, tedious, unnecessary and, dare I say it, dull. However, I'm more than willing to ignore the effect of these passages in light of the sheer brilliance of the rest of the book.
This particular translation (Penguin, 1954, this edition 2000) by Rosemary Edmonds is fantastic. Her prose is readable and appropriate, so that the book does not read like translated literature at all, but like any other nineteenth century novel. The illusion was so well-executed that the only time I was made aware that I wasn't reading original language literature was when characters discussed which pronouns to use to refer to one another, an aspect of language which is absent from modern English. Both the translation and the original writing make this a thoroughly excellent book.