Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

I started reading this novel in the fall, got halfway through by mid-December, and then wound up abandoning it when I decided not to lug 800 pages with me while going out of town for the holidays. Luckily last month I had a lull in novels and a bit of insomnia and hadn’t yet forgotten who all the characters were.

Shortly after starting the book I got two spoilers about the dramatic ending, which I had somehow never been exposed to (or stored away, I suppose) before that point. A testament to my stubbornness in reading, I continued on to see exactly how it would all pan out, even though knowing what was coming detracted enormously from the impact.

This book has one of the best opening lines:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Yet unless you are into classics or enjoy the challenges of making it through long books and keeping track of Russian names, I can’t say that there is anything incredible about the story. The core draw is the plight of Anna who has an affair and leaves her husband, entirely unheard of in late 19th century Russia. The difficulties she faces in dealing with the situation are interesting in terms of historical and feminist perspectives.

But then there is the complementing story of Kitty and Levin’s gradual progression towards marriage — initially thwarted by Kitty’s hope for a proposal from the guy who falls for Anna. Tolstoy explores his ideas on Christian socialism through Levin’s struggles as a landowner. Many chapters are devoted to Levin’s existential angst, whether he is being a loner with his thoughts or in a group distracted by his thoughts. Eventually at the end of the book he has a big revelation and reaches some sense of peace, but it was a rather lackluster resolution for me.