Author: Leo Tolstoy
First Published: 1877
Page Count: 853
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 4/5 Stars
While it didn’t knock my socks off, this famous novel definitely has a love story or two worth reading.
*Entertaining double plot *Diverse set of characters
*Dry sections on farming/ religion/ politics
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” Tolstoy tells the story of the hardworking farm owner, Levin, who is searching for love and a sense of purpose, and the beautiful Anna Karenin who feels trapped in her high society life of lies. Levin strives to earn the love of princess Kitty, but his whole existence is called into question when he finds her love is not so easily won. Anna is married to an older, cold statesman who only finds joy in his work. When she meets the charming Count Vronsky, she realizes that she can’t go on living life without feeling love or limiting herself to living off the love of her son. She pursues a love affair that throws her from her coveted place in high society and turns her once simple life into chaos.
I probably shouldn’t have picked one of the biggest books in my library to read right as my wedding planning has started to pick up, but after the Russian Olympics I had the urge to read one of their classics. And with two big Tolstoy novels taking up precious shelf space, I figured it was time to conquer one of them. I chose Anna Karenin, not only because it seemed more romantic of the two, but on every book list I’ve come across it has been ranked as the greatest book ever written – so that seemed promising. The storyline definitely makes it a classic. I liked that you get to follow two different characters, each, in their own way, trying to find love and something meaningful in life. The dueling storylines about pursuing love by Anna and Levin are entertaining in their own ways because Levin’s is a very heartwarming sweet love story, whereas Anna’s is a tumultuous storm of jealousy, passion, and anger. To add to the appeal, the character’s stories and their actions affect each other’s journey which help bind the two plots into one seamlessly written book. While Anna’s passionate character is just as entertaining as the pensive laborer Levin, Anna’s rigid husband Alexi or her humorous, carefree brother Stiva are just a few of the many well drawn out characters Tolstoy introduces to the readers and greatly add to the story.
My one issue with the book was that there would be passages that went into great detail on Levin’s farming practices, his musings on religion, or on the political events of the time. These felt very dry but were not nearly as bad as the whole chapters dedicated to architecture in The Hunchback of Notre Dame for instance. It would start out interesting because these issues are a part of the characters’ lives, but only up to a point; you wanted to get back to the meat of the story, whether it was Anna’s love affair or Levin’s own love troubles. The book could have been a lot shorter and I could see doing without most of these sections in the book. However, I also appreciate how these passages help the reader to understand the character’s identity or the culture of Russia.
Anna Karenin was very enjoyable, even if it went on a little longer then I would have liked. I had expected to be a little more blown away by the story, and I still hold books like Pride and Prejudice, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or Jane Eyre above it when I rank my favorite classics. However, after 800 pages of classic Russian literature, I’m feeling very satisfied that I can check that off my literature bucket list. If you want to conquer the classics, this is a must read.
*Film Adaptations: ( Starring Keira Knightley 2012, Starring Sean Bean 1997, Starring Vivien Leigh 1948, Starring Tatyana Samoylova 1967, Starring Greta Garbo 1935, Starring Maya Plisetskaya 1976)
TV Adaptations: (Starring Stasys Baltakis 2013, Starring Christopher Reeve 1985, Starring Nicola Pagett 1977, Starring Helen McCrory 2000)