Thoughts on: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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"Anna Karen­ina" by Leo Tol­stoy is a fic­tional book which was first pub­lished between 1873 to 1877 in the peri­od­i­cal The Russ­ian Mes­sen­ger. Even though the com­plete novel was pub­lished to mediocre reviews, oth­ers con­sider it the best realistic-fiction story written.

  • 1232 pages
  • Pub­lisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN: 1439169462
My rat­ing for Anna Karen­ina — 4
Great price on this book in paper or elec­tronic for­mat
through the Man of la Book Affil­i­ate Account


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

This famous line starts the novel Anna Karen­ina by Leo Tol­stoy (fun facts about his mar­riage), one of the most impor­tant works of world lit­er­a­ture. Unhap­pi­ness is a pri­vate emo­tion, yet Tol­stoy tries to make Anna Karenina’s unhap­pi­ness (or should the word actu­ally be trans­lated as mis­er­able?) uni­ver­sal.

I can­not believe I liked this book. I have been avoid­ing read­ing "Anna Karen­ina" by Leo Tol­stoy since I tried to watch the movie and gave up after about 10 min­utes. How­ever, the moment I started read­ing "Anna Karen­ina" I real­ized what I've been missing.

When I started read­ing the book two things imme­di­ately struck me. First is how read­able it is and the sec­ond about the first line’s hypocrisy.

The trans­la­tion flowed and Tolstoy’s story was, for the most part, inter­est­ing and engag­ing.  I was expect­ing nuances galore, hid­den mean­ings, bor­ing descrip­tions to no end etc. While the book is mul­ti­layer and does have nuances it does not inter­rupt the flow of the story which is how I felt about Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the d’Urbervilles” (my thoughts).

The sec­ond was that despite the title of the novel, which is the name of the pro­tag­o­nist, the first line imme­di­ately declares that the book is actu­ally about all fam­i­lies and not nec­es­sar­ily about a par­tic­u­lar woman or men.

Unhap­pi­ness is a fam­ily affair as most of us know. This sum­mer I started a new job and moved my fam­ily to a new state. We were all mis­er­able together and indi­vid­u­ally. I was prob­a­bly bet­ter off than the rest of the fam­ily, I had  job to go to, peo­ple to asso­ciate with and projects to keep my mind off the hard­ships at home. My beloved wife on the other hand wasn’t so lucky. We rented a house in a nice town but real­ized it was a mis­take about a week in. The kids were bored to death, no TV for six weeks and Inter­net ser­vice which dates back to the early 90s.
So much for that – we moved after a month.

Two moves in two months – now that’s misery.

But enough about the first line…

Each char­ac­ter is unhappy in his or hers own way, but they are all con­nected to the point where “happy fam­i­lies” losses all mean­ings. There are no happy fam­i­lies in this book, Anna is bored with her mar­riage (to a good hus­band), Dolly chooses to turn a blind eye to her husband’s infi­deli­ties and Kitty… Kitty just wants a happy marriage.

On the sur­face, Anna Karen­ina seems like a typ­i­cal soap opera. The char­ac­ters are inter­re­lated, romance, infi­deli­ties galore, long­ing, a sense of impend­ing doom and the knowl­edge that love is life. It is as if Tol­stoy is try­ing to tell the reader that love is the be all/end all and is what we should all strive for.

Upon fur­ther read­ing though we could tell that love brings pain and mis­ery. Anna con­stantly lies to her true self, Kitty and Levin are in a com­plex, some­times con­vo­luted rela­tion­ship, Dolly who chose her chil­dren over her hap­pi­ness would be arrested for child abuse these days and prob­a­bly back when the novel was pub­lished as well.

Tol­stoy is also stay­ing away from absolutes. There are no absolutes in life and there are no absolutes in Anna Karen­ina. How­ever, Tol­stoy does cap­ture the inescapable yearn­ings that peo­ple have for some­thing con­crete in their lives and the fruit­less search for it.

I felt the novel was a scathing crit­i­cism of Russ­ian upper class soci­ety and aris­toc­racy. It is obvi­ous that Tol­stoy did not approve of city life, orga­nized reli­gion and the class sys­tem among other social topics.

Tol­stoy didn't approve on biased based on gen­der either. Anna, the beau­ti­ful name­sake of the novel, is rebel­lious and leaves her hus­band and son for true hap­pi­ness. While I dis­agree with Tol­stoy on this level about hap­pi­ness, I did find the story inter­est­ing and tragic about the way the Russ­ian upper crust treated a woman's infi­delity, remov­ing her from their social cir­cles with­out being able to fight the rigid norms which gov­erned at the time.

I can see the impor­tance and shock value of the novel for its time. Today we con­sider Tolstoy's views as enlight­ened and his ques­tions on reform, life and deca­dence time­less. But the novel is more than that, along with the pro­found state­ments it is also qual­ity lit­er­a­ture — a bal­ance which is hard to strike.

Tol­stoy had an inter­est­ing and con­flict­ing life. As a per­son who was con­sid­ered rich, he was also a critic of the sys­tem which he ben­e­fited from. I find that inter­est­ing, espe­cially since it's going on today. Almost every­day I hear on the news about some bil­lion­aire who is fight­ing to change they sys­tem which has got­ten him/her to where they are.
Maybe it's guilt, maybe they felt that by chang­ing our dog-eat-dog super cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety (only for the rich that is) they will undo all the wrongs?

So tell me, which book have you been scared of reading?

The book is divided into eight parts, con­sist­ing of mainly short chapters.

Part I: Prince Stepan Arkadye­vitch Oblon­sky (Silva) has been caught cheat­ing on his wife Darya Alexan­drovna (Dolly). In the midst of the chaos he reminds every­one that his sis­ter, Anna Arkadyevna Karen­ina is com­ing to visit. Stiva's child­hood friend Kon­stan­tin Dmitrievich Levin (Kostya), an aris­to­cratic landowner who chose to live in the coun­try, is also arriv­ing to pro­pose to Dolly's sis­ter, the Princess Kate­rina Alexan­drovna Shcherbatskaya (Kitty).

Meet­ing at the train sta­tion, Levin becomes infat­u­ated with Anna. Later, Levin pro­poses to Kitty who clum­sily turns him down. At the ball Vron­sky dances with Anna who is shaken by her feel­ings towards him and leaves soon after. How­ever, Vron­sky is on the same train and con­fesses his love to Anna who refuses him.

Levin returns to his coun­try estate crushed. Anna returns home only to real­ize that she is repulsed by her husband.

Part II: The Shcherbatskys take Kitty abroad, on advice of a doc­tor, because her health is fail­ing, suf­fer­ing from depres­sion for turn­ing Levin down.Kitty recov­ers but becomes extremely reli­gious after she meets Madame Stahl and her adopted daugh­ter Varenka.

Back in St. Peters­burg Anna and Vron­sky meet again, how­ever this time Anna's hus­band warns her to stay away from him. Anna real­izes that she is preg­nant with Vronsky's child and con­fesses her affair to her hus­band who asks her to break it off, believ­ing every­thing will return to normal.

Part III: Levin con­tin­ues to work on his farm con­tem­plat­ing deep thoughts about false­ness, agri­cul­ture reform and the rela­tion­ship between labor, land and cul­ture. Levin pays Dolly a visit who tries to explain Kitty's behav­ior to him. Levin refuses to believe Dolly only to real­izes he sitll loves Kitty once he gets a glimpse of her again.

Karenin is upset that Anna will not end her affair with Vron­sky and threat­ens to take away her son if she continues.

Part IV: Karenin is plan­ning to divorce Anna and forces her to give him incrim­i­nat­ing let­ters. Upon find­ing out that Anna is dying, Karenin for­gives her and Vron­sky who tries to com­mit sui­cide. Embar­rassed by Karenin's actions Vron­sky tries to com­mit sui­cide but fails.

Anna gives birth to a girl, Annie, and wants to leave with Vron­sky on his mil­i­tary post. The cou­ple leaves with­out Karenin giv­ing Anna a divorce leav­ing Sery­ozha, Anna's son, behind.

Part V: Levin and Kitty get mar­ried and go to live in Levin's estate in the coun­try. After sev­eral dif­fi­cult months Levin finds out that his brother is dying. He wants to go visit him but is dis­mayed when Kitty wants to come with him. While Levin thinks his wife shouldn't asso­ciate with the lower class, all Kitty wants is to sup­port her hus­band. On the trip they find out that Kitty is pregnant.

In Europe, Anna and Vron­sky are also hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time. The cou­ple can­not asso­ciate with Rus­sians of their own class and Vron­sky get bored of the sit­u­a­tion. Return­ing to St. Peters­burg, the cou­ple real­izes that Anna is barred from society.

Anna gets to visit her son on his birth­day, but later gets snubbed at the the­ater by her for­mer friends. Unable to find a place for them­selves in St. Peters­burg either, the cou­ple goes to the country.

Part VI: Dolly goes to visit Levin & Kitty as well as Vron­sky & Anna in the city. Dolly is sur­prised by the way Anna & Vron­sky throw money around. She tries to con­vince Anna to get a divorce so she and Vron­sky can prop­erly marry, but Anna refuses.

Part VII: The Levin's are in Moscow due to Kitty's ail­ment. Levin gets accus­tomed quickly to the lifestyle and joins Stiva in gentleman's clubs where drink­ing and gam­bling are the past time. At the club Levin meets Vron­sky. Levin vis­its Anna and quickly falls under her spell. Anna can­not under­stand why Levin, with a young and pretty wife, would want her yet not Vronsky.

Anna users mor­phine to help her sleep due to the strain of the rela­tion­ship she is in. Soon she becomes an addict.

Kitty gives birth to a son, Dmitri

Stiva vis­its Karenin to ask him about a mil­i­tary post and also about grant­ing Anna a divorce. How­ever, this divorce would require Karenin to lie and said he had an affair, Karnin gives Stiva a cryp­tic answer which he deci­phers as a "no".

Angry, con­fused, jeal­ous and irra­tional Anna believes her rela­tion­ship with Vron­sky is over and con­tem­plates sui­cide. Anna com­mits sui­cide by throw­ing her­self in the path of a train.

Part VIII: Stiva gets the job he desired, Karenin takes cus­tody of baby Annie, the sui­ci­dal Vron­sky vol­un­teers to go to war.

Levin real­izes he loves his son just as much as he loves Kitty. After talk­ing to a peas­ant, Levin comes to the con­clu­sion that liv­ing a good moral life is the only rea­son to live. Levin also comes tothe con­clu­sion that there are other reli­gions besides Chris­tian­ity that hold sim­i­lar views on good­ness and those are just as valid and acceptable.

Great price on this book in paper or elec­tronic for­mat
through the Man of la Book Affil­i­ate Account

Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free.




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