Reviews

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

francitara's review against another edition

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adventurous challenging emotional medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.25

shenoyreads's review against another edition

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5.0

Rating -5 🌟

"All happy families are alike ; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"

Tolstoy's Anna Karenina starts with one of the most brilliant opening lines ever. The story, as indicated in its opening lines deals with the struggles that three possibly not so happy families are grappling with in their own ways. Anna Karenina is definitely one of the main protagonist of this story and probably very well known to any reader even if they haven't read the book is her story of dealing with unhappiness in her marriage with Alexei Karenin and falling in love with young Count Vronsky to start an adulterous love affair that startles 19th century Russian society.

However, if you go on expecting the story only to follow Anna, then brace yourselves as Tolstoy deals with two more couples, Princess Oblonsky who has to deal with Prince Stiva Oblonsky's (Anna's brother) frivolous and often hedonistic attitudes and on the opposite tangent we get a look into the lives of Konstantin Levin, a landowner who likes to live a simple life in the country side and wishes to marry Kitty Shcherbatsky with whom he is in love with. 

I don't think any one summary can encompass all the plot lines, all the characters journeys or even all the themes and discussions that Tolstoy brings to this epic novel. 

Tolstoy discusses heavy handed topics such as agricultural economy, philosophical debates, political changes, the surge of modern life and capitalism, death , adultery and it's sociological implications and of course wraps this all within the characters struggling to find the meaning of life, love, faith within their little worlds. 

After learning about Tolstoy and his views and the philosophies that he has entered into this work that may seem like a cautionary tale of how love and life without virtue and devoid of faith will not lead to happiness, I would agree with a reviewer who said, "Tolstoy imbues the story with morals without being moralistic".

On the other hand, the omniscient voice of the narrator slips so easily into each characters mind, that these characters seem relatable to this day despite this book being set in 19th century Russia. Tolstoy shows such nuanced ideas of love, relationship, the unit of family and the role of the spouses that it does not come off as very fictional but rather a knowledge gained from maturity as one experiences life and relationships. 

Though I cannot compare the way a woman's (Anna and the other women in the story) perspective has been written in this book with contemporary writing who are much more 'woke' for a lack of a better word, Tolstoy does not judge or condemn Anna for her choices but rather some of the insights he gives us into her thoughts, her opinions and also the way society's treatment of her affects her are very realistic and could be called way ahead of his time. 

"The inequality of spouses, in his opinion,consisted in the fact that the unfaithfulness of a wife and the unfaithfulness of a husband were punished unequally by the law and public opinion", one of the character expresses his opinion thus. This thought is very clear by the way Anna is treated as opposed to Vronsky or even as Stiva ( who also cheats on his wife) is treated. 

Anna's character is very unique and really stands out. One other character who will probably win everyone's hearts is Levin ( who is a character based on Tolstoy to some extent and who is the other end of the spectrum/ opposite to Anna's character). 

I wondered for some time why I hadn't read the book earlier and yes while 8 parts with more than 800 pages may seem daunting, I realised once I picked up the book that it was very easy to read and made me realise that my interpretation and thoughts on the book are as such because I read it now which seemed to me to be the right time. 

This book has revived my interest and love for classics all over again and I am very eager to read from Tolstoy and even other Russian Classic writers more in the future. 

" I think...if there are as many minds as there are men, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts"

"Everything is finished....I have nothing but you. Remember that"
               - Anna, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

jvoutsinas's review

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challenging dark emotional sad tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? N/A
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

5.0

ptolemaea's review against another edition

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slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

deli678's review against another edition

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adventurous inspiring mysterious reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

bibliolucinda's review against another edition

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4.0

IT IS DONE. Many thoughts, but head empty - thinking 4 / 4.5 stars.

“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.”

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

“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”

missapples's review

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5.0

The most astonishing thing about this novel is how Tolstoy is able to discuss serious matters like philosophy and psychology but not for a second sounding too smart, obnoxious or boring. He leads you through the lives of his characters and you believe they are real people, you understand and defend even those you'd despise in real life. In just a few details he is able to show a wide range of emotions, raw and honest, but never does he go overboard.
I simply love this book, although I didn't find any of the female characters to identify with myself. I think his male characters are much stronger and more interesting. It's ironic the novel is titled "Anna Karenina", but then maybe there's something I'm not old enough to see yet? I'm sure I'll read it again several years from now and find something new.

sarahrara's review against another edition

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4.0

Also published on my blog.

Audible version, narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Partly because of the sheer volume of this book and partly because I have a bit of a hard time with Russian authors, I’ve been putting off Anna Karenina for a long time, knowing that somewhere down the line I’d simply have to give it a try. When the audiobook presented itself on sale, I took that as a sign that the time was now. That, and coincidentally two of the most recent books I read both referenced Anna Karenina and the famous opening line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I was expecting it to be a bit of a slog, but actually really enjoyed almost all of it. There were some bits that went on and on about local politics or the day-to-day business of farming that weren’t quite that interesting, but overall it was really engaging. Of course there was the usual naming confusion that’s pretty much inevitable with Russian novels (and is one of the reasons I’ve had trouble with them in the past), but I actually found it easy enough to follow – you just have to pay a little attention.

There are a lot of characters in this novel, but the main two storylines are those of Anna Karenina and Konstantin Levin and all the other characters are connected to these two main ones in some way. While their lives intersect the two of them only ever meet once, towards the end of the book.

Anna, as most people may already know, leaves her husband and son to be with her lover – Count Vronsky. This is of course a great scandal and leads to some difficult times and decisions for both Anna and Vronsky. Most have also probably heard how tragically this affair ends, but in case you haven’t, I won’t spoil it for you.

Levin is a country gentleman, but at heart he is a farmer. He is most at ease when he is at home taking an active role in the farm work on his estate, and when he is out in nature. He keeps looking for ways to revolutionise farming, and for ways to get the peasants more involved and set them up to be in charge of their own destinies. He is also passionately in love with Ekaterina “Kitty” Shcherbatskaya.

Both Anna and Levin are struggling with big questions in their lives. For Anna the main struggle (as I see it) is that she craves love and understanding, but she is also proud and jealous and doesn’t know how to talk about what troubles her. She is passionate and wild and has a crazy temper, and because she is unable to talk about how she really feels, she starts to spiral downwards and becomes gradually more miserable and paranoid.

Levin’s struggle is a spiritual one. He wants to believe in God but has trouble with religion. He is confronted with death and life’s brevity and struggles to find meaning, to find peace. I find his struggle and his whole character very relatable, and definitely enjoyed the Levin parts the most. It’s a testament to Tolstoy’s writing that the life and struggles of a Russian man towards the end of the 19th century are still so relatable today, to a modern Western European woman.

On the one hand the characters all seem a bit exaggerated. They all have these intense emotions and seem to go from one end of the spectrum to the other in rapid succession. They resolve to act a certain way, or say or do certain things and then for some minor reason that they blow out of proportion (this is especially true of Anna), or indeed because of something undefinable, they end up doing the opposite or just not doing or saying the thing they intended to. On the other hand, human beings are a little bit like this. And I found the psychological depth and inner monologues of the characters very fascinating.

I was gripped by the lives and the fates of these vivid characters and always managed to lose myself in the story when I picked it up. I also really enjoyed the ending and found it very uplifting and meaningful.

A note on the narration: I was thrilled to see this was narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal, as I love her voice and really enjoyed her reading of The Bell Jar, and it was another thing that pushed me to finally buy this book. In hindsight I’m not sure Ms Gyllenhaal was the best choice for this one though, as she has exactly the same kind of tone as she did for The Bell Jar, and while it worked really well for that one, I feel like Anna Karenina calls for more of a dramatic reading – what with all the characters and emotions flying about. Like she’ll read in a perfectly calm and measured voice something that a character supposedly shrieked. And I didn’t feel that there was much differentiation between the voices of the different characters. But it wasn’t hard to follow at all, and by all means she does have a pleasant voice.

charlotte_owl's review against another edition

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5.0

This book was excellent! It was very long, but I didn't have a problem finishing it. I found it did a very good job it showing how people's feelings and emotions about subjects or other people change. It was an interesting read on characters.

monituse's review

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dark emotional funny informative reflective sad tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0