Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

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‘In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colourful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.’

★★★

This book is a thorough and complete study of all things people and the peaks and troughs of life and love. Despite being written in the late 19th C, it’s way before it’s time, and contrary to what everyone thinks when they hear ‘Russian literature’ or ‘Tolstoy’ which is usually along the lines of ‘oh god’ this book is impressively easy to read.

In a nutshell, it’s the story of a Anna, who’s passions for another man lead to her inevitable downfall. You know from the start the only possible ending for her, making it a pretty painful read. Can Anna fully estrange herself from her husband and son and start again with the attractive Count Vronsky? Probably not. Will she ever be accepted into Russian society without being branded a ‘fallen woman’? Of course not, that wouldn’t be exciting at all.

This is the mother of the modern novel and just to call it ‘Anna Karenina’ is the tip of the iceberg, as Tolstoy follows the entire network of relationships that surround her, and coupled with the detailed storyline of Levin, a clear reflection of Tolstoy himself, makes for an intricately woven book with about ten different main characters.Levin represents the future of Russia, the birthings of a communist environment, whilst Anna and her relations showcase the expensive living of the Moscow and St Petersburg circles. However, if there is one lesson in this book, it’s that money and success never equal happiness; anyone can get their heart broken and their life torn apart by the most primal of emotions – desire.

You can tell Tolstoy not only places importance on the love and attractive downfall of Anna’s life, as the book is interspersed with long analysis of peasant – or ‘muzhik’ – life and farming, providing a social and economic commentary which would have been far more relevant at the time of publication. Nevertheless, it provides a contrast to the turmoil of the Karenins, and certainly from a historical point of view lends an insight into the beginnings of a communist Russia. Although I have a soft spot for Levin and his country-dwelling, peasant-loving ways, these long passages are not integral to the plot – don’t be put off! These lulls in the plot are contrasted with unbelievable highs which make up for some of the intense pieces of writing I’ve ever read.

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