Saturday, January 8, 2011

Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina is young, beautiful, wealthy, and happily married, and  she adores her son.  Her life is happy, if dull, until she meets the dashing Count Vronsky.  It's love at first sight... and he's not her husband. She finds herself relucantly turning to him, torn between loyalty and love.

Entertainment: ★★★★★

So, the name Tolstoy turned me off at first.  I mean, would I really want to read an 817-page book that practically exudes an aura of stuffiness?  That was what I asked myself as I checked out, but at the urging of pushy people who feel I need to "expand my literary horizons," I was going to force myself to suffer through this six-inch book that screamed "classic."

I was so completely, totally wrong I don't even know how to say it. I loved this book to death.

Plot: ★★★

It's pretty slow going.  Tolstoy is intense; you need to take a brain break every 15 pages or so.  Also, there's a few chapters of politics here and there which, to he honest, drag.  It's been a while since I've taken this long to get through a book.  But, wow, what a subtle, intricate, entrancing story.  And I could not guess the ending!

Characters: ★★★★★

The thing about Tolstoy's characters is that they aren't characters.  They're people.  Levin, Vronsky, Kitty, Anna, Alexei, and all the rest were just so solid, so flawed, so perfect, so real.  I don't know what to write here, except that this book contains some of the best characters I've read in a long time.

The relationships between the characters deserve a spotlight all of their own.  The One True Loves fight with each other, for example. Thank you, Tolstoy, for some real relationships.  Just because two people are Soul Mates does not mean they will never ever ever disagree, or get bored with each others' company, or exhibit any other all too human flaws.  The fact is, love takes work, and Tolstoy demonstrates that brilliantly.

I'd also like to note that I actually didn't like any of the characters.  Some of them at times disgusted me with their childishness, naivety, or plain obnoxious self-centered stupidity.  They weren't the airbrushed, Photoshopped version of humanity we find all too often in books; they were just plain people.  Now, I realize this might not appeal to some people.  In fact, maybe a lot of people prefer the airbrushed characters; I don't really know.  But for me, Tolstoy's characters were amazing.

Writing: ★★★★

See the above note: this writing is intense.  But it's such a masterpiece.  There are the classics you are forced to read, which produce a feeling similar to being force-fed cardboard.  And then there are the classics, books so utterly brilliant they will never go out of style, never get old, and never, ever disappoint.  Anna Karenina is far and away a star of the second group.

End Result: four stars.  A good book, definitely worth your time.


  1. Stopping by via Follow Friday! I can't say that I've had the pleasure of reading Anna Karenina, but I have always heard wonderful things about it. I'm glad to hear that Tolstoy's characters are so much more than that. I'm a firm believer that if the characterization isn't good then I can't really care about a novel---even if the plot is great.

    I'm a new follower now! Please take some time and stop by my blog. Follow me back if you like!

  2. I've really never had the urge to read Tolstoy, but after reading your review ... maybe I'll reconsider. Might be a good one for my Kindle -- to just read at a slow pace. I don't think it will be on the top of my TBR, but I'll think about giving it a spot on the list. Great review. Thanks!

  3. I've read a few versions of Anna Karenina, and I definitely like this translation best. I agree with most of your review, but I also think it's a little hard to review Tolstoy, at least for me, coming from such a different time period and background. Anyway, great review and I'm a new follower as well. :)