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on 18 October 2007
"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

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on 4 July 2010
I'll make it short. It may be cheap but the translation isn't very good. Buy the Penguin version!
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on 6 July 2010
The classics of world literature are readily available these days in cheap editions, such as this Wordsworth edition of "Anna Karenina" (a new edition will set you back 1p(!) on this site), so really one has no excuse for not reading them. I read a lot of classics, some I enjoy, and the appeal of some passes me by. I found "Anna Karenina" to belong to the second category.

This book has two independent stories, occasionally slightly interlinked: that of Anna, her infidelity to her husband, and all that happens next; and that of a young landowner named Levin, who falls in love with a pretty and demure young lady named Kitty. I enjoyed the early part depicting Levin's heightened emotional state in the early stages of his love with Kitty. That part of the book was very involving.

Lots of factors combined to make my interest flag, though. There's an awful lot of discussion of social, political and philosophical questions in Russia at the time. Levin meets somebody, they talk for ages about some burning question, and it has nothing to do with the novel as a novel. It becomes clear, as well, that Levin is a mouthpiece for Tolstoy: it's always easy to tell whose side Tolstoy is on in any discussion, so sometimes one feels one is being preached to.
There's also a lot of interior monologue. This is partly why "Anna Karenina" is considered such an important influence on the modern novel. Be that as it may, I found it boring. There are times when Anna's moods, which are capricious and extreme, could be summed up pretty quickly, but instead we get pages and pages of monologue giving her reaction to everything she sees and how it plays on her mood. Also, there's a lot of emphasis on others' reactions to Anna, how charmed everyone is by her, and touched by her beauty. I wasn't very charmed by Anna; her histrionics started to annoy me after a while and being constantly told all the ways in which she was beautiful didn't help. There's also a long interior monologue section detailing Levin's spiritual struggles. This part I found especially tedious as it's clear Tolstoy is just talking about himself, and the answers he comes up with aren't very impressive, in my view.

So, in short, I didn't really enjoy this. I kept thinking of Tolstoy's contemporary Turgenev, whose work I do enjoy: he would have told this story in a quarter the length, he would have let the characters represent themselves through actions and words, without pages of interior monologue, and he would have taken a more objective approach to his characters without wanting to force his own opinions on the reader.
It could be the translation, in part. Another reviewer says this translation, by Louise and Aylmer Maude, is a poor one, and there were points where the phrasing seemed to me a little off. But there's more to it than that, and Tolstoy's approach just isn't my thing.
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on 7 August 2015
“I think… if it is true that
there are as many minds as there
are heads, then there are as many
kinds of love as there are hearts.”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Uuuuuummmmm, that pretty much sums up what I thought of this book! Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is in the BBC hundred greatest books, which is why I finally decided to read it. I read a lot, and I mean a lot. Mostly classics as well as poetry but this book was confusing. It waffled even more then Dicken’s, had more French and Russian in it then a none speaker can cope with without footnotes and a dictionary!!

“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Having written this I did find it very interesting. I know next to nothing about Russian history (despite two of my good friends being Russian) and this book has many references to the history that was in the making at this time. I also thought it semi- interesting the consequences of Anna’s affair although the idea is nothing new for around that time and since then.

“I always loved you, and if one loves anyone, one loves the whole person, just as they are and not as one would like them to be. -Dolly”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Really the book should be called Anna Karenina and Constantine Levin (admittedly not as catchy) because it is as much about him as it is about her the difference being Levin is actually in all the way through. There were long chapters where absolutely nothing happened so probably could be cut down to half the length the book currently is. In short I have very mixed feelings about this book. If you do’t normally read classics then I really wouldn’t recommend starting with this one as it will probably put you off.

“Love. The reason I dislike that word is that it means too much for me, far more than you can understand.”

– Anna Karenina {Anna Karenina}”
― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

There are so many different (and annoying characters) you need your concentration fully intact (worse than bleak house!) before reading it. I would give this book three out of five stars (could of been worse, could of been vanity fair!).
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on 21 April 2015
I read this book many years ago after seeing a TV film of it. At that time, I didn't really understand what was wrong with Anna, and I thought her a complete nitwit and her lover Vronsky a bore and couldn't work out the point of it all. But recently I watched a simply splendid Spanish version of the story and finally I understood just what she was about and what hell she gives everyone around her due to her own extremely self-centred and also mentally disturbed personality. In the Spanish movie, Vronsky is acted by the glamorous Chilean actor Santiago Cabrera and he gives the character a warmth, a poignancy and a constancy that never came over to me from the acting of the earlier version I saw when perhaps the actor for Vronsky was too old for the part or so I felt then. He seemed too stupid for an older man, but the younger Cabrera puts over all the agony of the young, genuine lover with the older mistress. Finally I understood just how destructive Anna is as I watched her outrageous behaviour to in particular her husband, her lover and her sad young son, so selfish and relentlessly determined to get her own continually contrary way by preying on the feelings of all the people who love her and it's a long time before they see her for what she really is.

If you have read this book and like me originally found it annoying, or had no patience with Anna or her lover, perhaps if you watch that fine movie which also stars other well-known fine actors (it is dubbed into English, so no need for subtitles), you will get it from that production and then find as I have found that reading the book becomes a fascination.
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on 2 July 2014
Dated but an interesting and useful insight into Russian society as it was. It is too long winded for me, I have to like something immediately and this did not capture me. I don't want reading to be a chore. Too many lengthy descriptions about the parting of someone's hair or the smoking case they carry. I feel a bit of a philistine for posting this review as I dearly wanted to be absorbed into it. Alas Anna Karenina is a book for the more patient reader.
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on 7 July 2011
At the risk of sounding completely full of it - I do think that Anna Karenina is the greatest novel ever written and my personal favourite. I'm a huge fan of nineteenth century fiction and love all the classics, Jane Eyre being another great favourite but I think Anna Karenina really outshines so many of its contemporaries. I think Tolstoy here creates characters who we all know and love in our own lives and places them in circumstances which we can all relate to. When I first read this novel I was in my teens and found Levin extremely boring and just wanted to be completely immersed in the tragedy of Anna. However every time I come back to this novel this changes and I can take a new reading from it (the mark of a great novel). Other characters start to really stand out for me and as I got older I began to sympathise and relate to Levin's struggles. The sheer scope of this novel is one of its greatest achievements. With War and Peace you can't help but feel overwhelmed by the size and scale of it but here Tolstoy manages to reign that in and in so doing he paints a much smaller but equally detailed picture.

Anna Karenina has to be one of the best heroines ever put on paper. Here we have a woman in 19th century Russia willing to turn her back on her family and fortune even abandoning her young son and all for a complete rascal! (A sexy rascal it has to be said, but a bit of a waster if we're honest with ourselves.)
However having said all that the strength of the novel lies within its host of characters, and although named after its heroine this novel is about so much more.

This really is a timeless classic. Do not let the size of it put you off!

Fingers crossed that then new movie out next year will do it justice! I really can't see Knightley in the lead role but hopefully she'll pull it off.
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on 25 September 2012
Every now and then there is a really engrossing, well-written chapter which gives me the incentive to wade through what are frankly very tedious parts, which were so boring that I virtually glossed over them, not really taking much in. The book starts really well and continues to be enjoyable until about mid-way, when it gets increasingly political and even though the title of the book suggests otherwise, there are other characters that feature more heavily than Anna herself. I enjoyed the bits involving Anna, Dolly, and Kitty, but didn't enjoy Levin's story so much. Would I recommend this book? Yes, and no. If you are prepared to be bored some of the time, then give it a go.
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on 12 February 2007
This reads as easily as chick lit, and initially just seems like a fun novel where the fairy-tale world of priviledged Russian society (all elegant soirees and ice-skating on frozen lakes) is a backdrop for unrequited love, forbidden love, choices and consequences.

Then almost without you realising, and with huge gentleness and sympathy towards his characters, Tolstoy uses their lives to show you truths about being human that you recognise intimately, but could never have expressed. And gradually - like snow melting to reveal a hidden landscape - you are left with a beautiful treatise on 'what makes people happy?' and 'how should we best live our lives?'

Read it - it's the perfect book.
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on 6 April 2016
Anna Karenina is a lovely story by Tolstoy.. Some of the Russian names which hard to pronounce makes it a bit difficult to remember who's who; but its lovely the way he describes all the scenes and expressions. Must one day get the DVD with Audrey Hepburn. 800 pages makes it a heavy book to hold.
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