My husband got me an e-reader for Christmas and one of the first books I downloaded onto it was Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” The version I downloaded was free, which is always good. And I’ve been meaning to read “Anna Karenina” since I was in high school.
“Anna Karenina” is on countless “read these books before you die” lists, and I really believe it belongs there. It is truly a beautiful and epic work of literary art. It deserves some thought and discussion, and it’s not a trashy beach read by any means. It’s one of those books you don’t want to put down, but there are some parts that are tedious and frustrating, too.
The story revolves around three couples, each of whom travel around Russia, solve their own social problems and occasionally give each other marital advice, even though their own marital situations aren’t that great. If I were to write a plot synopsis, it would read like a soap opera. But “Anna Karenina” is so much more than any love story or soap opera.
The book mainly shows how men are treated differently than women when they step out on their spouses, but the idea was never forced on me through trite, shallow dialogue. It also has themes on government, wealth, forgiveness, religion and charity.
Several aspects of Tolstoy’s life were written into “Anna Karenina” through his character Levin. Levin was my favorite character, and as I was reading I felt like I was intimately acquainted with him every time he appeared. He eventually ends up married and happy. I won’t say to whom, because that will ruin the story, but I was rooting for him for the 700-plus pages he remained unmarried.
The most frustrating thing about the book, and about Russian literature in general, is how every characters’ thought and movement is documented ad nauseam in the narrative. I don’t need to know that Stiva put on his watch before he got up from the chair. I don’t want to know when characters cough or when their teeth decay. The thorough narrative is probably why “Anna Karenina” is such a lengthy tome.
Another confusing part of Russian literature is the use of nicknames. Remember my favorite character, Levin? Yeah, that’s a nickname. He’s also known as Konstantin Dmitrievitch and Kostya throughout the book. And it’s not as though only the characters refer to Levin by a nickname. Tolstoy himself, in his narration, will call characters by their nicknames, which can be extra confusing in the beginning of the book when you’re just getting to know what’s going on. And remember, the book was translated from Russian, so spellings of names will probably not be consistent across all editions.
Overall, the book was absolutely excellent and worth every moment of the month it took me to read it. Parts of the plot are slow and lethargic, such as when Levin mows hay with peasants on his farm, but the narrative is artfully done. Other parts, like the birth of Anna’s illegitimate daughter, are tense, graphic and gripping.
Instead of choosing the latest New York Times bestseller or tired thriller with an overdone plot, pick up “Anna Karenina.” Its themes are fresh and exciting, even though the novel is more than a century old. It’s available for download onto your e-reader for free, and it’s probably available in paperback almost anywhere.
Joe Wright, the director for the 2005 “Pride and Prejudice” movie starring Kiera Knightley is currently directing a movie version of “Anna Karenina,” also starring Kiera Knightley. Domhnall Gleeson (the same guy who played Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter movies) is slated to play Levin. The movie is set to be released in Sweden in September, so I’m hoping it’ll make it over to the United States as well. I’ll have plenty of time to make my “Team Levin” T-shirt and scope out an indie movie theater that will be willing to play the movie when it hits the United States.