Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Thoughts

Another first for me. Not the length of the book, since I read Crescent City a month back, which was longer than 800 pages. But the author. My first read by Leo Tolstoy 🙂

Im absolutely in love with this Barnes & Noble collector’s edition that I bought for this book! 🙂

Have you read a book and found that while you were reading, you went through a gamut of emotions, starting from boredom, to anger, frustration, to being really interested in what is being discussed in the book, or suddenly getting invested in the characters who you didn’t like at first? A book where the plot had nothing new, but everything else written in between made a lot of sense and you just wanted to discuss everything written in the book with someone else? A book that somehow made you feel like you had become slightly more learned than when you started, but also made you wonder, there wasn’t anything new that was written in the book, so why didn’t I realise this earlier?

I think that’s the thing with books that we call Classics now. I have to be honest, I have a tough time getting into Classics on the oft chance that I pick one up. Even my beloved Pride and Prejudice, was hard to get into. Like the Liz Bennett scenes in Pride and Prejudice, I only wanted to read the parts with Anna Arkyadevna Karenin in this book. But like P&P, Anna Karenina isn’t just Anna’s story. In fact, she probably gets just 30% of the overall plot time. The story revolves around the relationships, lives and inward struggles of other characters too – such as Anna’s husband Alexey, her lover Vronsky, her brother Stepan, his wife Dolly, Dolly’s sister Kitty and her husband Levin. There are a lot many supporting characters that I can’t even remember now. So, it took time for me to get into the hang of the book.

There were parts when I wanted to shut down the book, or wondered, where is he going with this? Or where I was just plain bored because I was reading pages of observations. But there were more parts where I was so interested, that I re-read the paragraphs again, to savour what was written.

Leo Tolstoy touches upon a lot of subjects in this book:

  • Feminism – How infidelity is treated differently when done by a man versus when done by a woman. Strangely, even after years, looks like we haven’t changed much in our thinking
  • Socialism – A lot of arguments are presented in many passages, for, against and with different flavours of socialism. The overall tone seemed to be in favour of helping the working class by providing them with better opportunities, but everyone in the book agrees to some extent that there is no definitive right way to reach an ideal society where everyone is rewarded equally
  • Marital and Familial relationships – The major theme of this book is taking a deeper look into the mechanics of a family life. What happens to men when they marry and are expected to remain in a monogamous relationship and answerable to their wives all the time? When they are the sole provider for the family? What happens to women (at least in that society when women didn’t have many options) when their husbands start getting bored of the family life, or go astray, or when they realise that they’ve given up a major chunk of their lives and bodies being mothers and wives only? Is only motherhood sufficient to make a woman happy and satisfied with her life?
  • Death, Faith and Belief – Suicide is another common recurrence in the book. What drives a person to commit suicide? The search for answers and questions regarding the higher power are also put across with a lot of thought and the book actually ends on a nice positive note on the subject of faith and finding one’s place in life

There were a lot many subjects that were touched upon, but I’ll end up writing a two part blog review then if I write about all of that!

To me, this was a sad story. A tragic love story. The ending felt like an afterthought by the author, but I’ll have to read what other readers have written and thought about the ending, or the last part of the book to be able to form a better opinion. So although the overall story was a tragedy, the ending/last part of the book is a positive one and takes away some of the pain from the previous parts.

Overall, I think this book needs to be read with a buddy or as a book club read, savoured slowly like a glass of Whiskey. It takes time to get into, and you appreciate it better in small sips. After the third sip, the burn gives way to the smoothness of taste and the feeling that you’re in good company.

Bookish discussions

If you guys are reading or planning to read Anna Karenina and want to buddy read, please hit me up. I’d love to re-read and discuss with someone 🙂

Have you read any other works by Leo Tolstoy? I’ve heard only about War and Peace other than this? Which did you prefer, if you’ve read both?

11 thoughts on “Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Thoughts

  1. such a great review! i’ve wanted to read anna karenina for a while, and i definitely agree with your bit on classics. they’re so gratifying but definitely take a lot more focus to get through! also, i’d be interested in a buddy read one day!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, I do not usually like classics — I loved Beloved and Pride & Prejudice, and they’re the only ones 🙈 — so I might not enjoy this one. But this edition looks so pretty I wanna get it lol?? 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh the edition is absolutely gorgeous! That was one of the reasons I expedited reading this one since I wanted to read a Tolstoy and wanted a paper book .. when I saw this edition being sold, I felt I know my answer🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read this book two years ago and was a bit surprised at how much I enjoyed it given that there often doesn’t seem to be much going on… yet as you point out, there’s actually quite a bit happening. So much of what you said in your review was like “YES!”

    I loved Tolstoy’s style of writing — I was concerned that it would be difficult to read, like the language would be more foreign as Shakespeare is. But it was so smooth, I never found that I was struggling to read the words, and I never once got to the end of a page and thought, “… what did I just read? I’ve already forgotten!” I enjoy Stephen King, but that happens constantly when I read him.

    I became SO invested in the characters here. The ending to Levin’s story was quite satisfying, but Anna’s end…… oh, I was FURIOUS (still am, TBH!). I’ve never felt so betrayed by an author before in my life! I’ll never stop being a “happy ending” type of gal, and Anna’s struggle was so real, and went on for so long… I think her story deserved a happy ending rather than what happened. And frankly, Vronksy deserved better too.

    Also, my GOODNESS, this edition you found is gorgeous!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow Wendy! Thank you for taking the time to write your thoughts on this book. Clearly, enjoyed it as much as o did, which like you said, is hard sometimes with classics.

      But you’re right, Tolstoy’s writing style is not heavy at all. I really want to read his war and peace now too. Have you read that one?

      Oh gosh, I was so furious for Anna’s ending too! I was so sure that I was reading a feminist book ahead of it’s time written by a male author, where a woman can be intelligent and beautiful and choose the person she loves and then this ending! I did wonder if he had to write it to keep in times with the expects of the society then?

      I thought Anna and Vronsky both were good people and really they didn’t deserve the ending from the book. I’m a happy ending kind of person too so that left me quite heartbroken as well.

      Did you realise that even in Levin’s story, for all his talk on socialism and equality of labour, he himself acts like a landlord when it comes to his own workers. He tries to mix with them but he still feels superior to them. It’s easy to be an idealist but very difficult to actually practise it. I really enjoyed that perspective from this book 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, Prachi! No, I haven’t read War and Peace yet, but like you, it’s one I would like to, and I really want to be able to add it to my “Classics I’ve Read” list.

        It’s an interesting thought, about why Anna’s ending may have been written as it was. I’m pretty traditional in my own values and thinking, but I was still rooting for Anna and Vronsky. IMHO, I don’t think Tolstoy was trying to stick within the confines of society though. I feel like there’s too much non-conformity in the rest of the story for that to be the case. When I finally cooled off enough to ponder what felt like such a shocking end to that part of the story, I tried to find a lesson in it — just SOMEthing that would explain Tolstoy’s choice, or at least make it more palatable. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it wasn’t meant as a warning to be more discerning when making important life decisions: Like who you’re going to marry, who you want to be with and why. We certainly get to see a wide gamut of relationship issues in this book, not just between Anna and Vronsky, but with Kitty, Levin, Stepan… I don’t know. I just can’t help but think that this was simply Tolstoy giving us a dose of reality (happy endings in real life are sometimes hard to come by), but in a slap-in-the-face kind of way.

        In the end, Kitty and Levin find their way to each other, which did make me really happy. I admired Levin’s determination throughout the book (though as you said, YES, I completely agree that Levin was, well, I think it would be appropriate to say he was a bit of a hypocrite!) and when I got to the very end, the comparison of Levin and Anna — the two characters that didn’t really have much to do with each other’s life — became so stark. For most of the book, I think I viewed them both as being the same. But whereas Anna got to a point where she gave up, Levin persevered. Anna’s end was tragic, and a warning, perhaps to the reader; whereas Levin stuck with life, however it was, finally realized his dream, and he got the happy ending. I can see where on the surface it might seem like an anti-woman kind of thing, but I honestly don’t believe that was the intention, and I never personally had that thought. If I try to imagine the same story, but basically reverse the genders…. I don’t think it would have worked as well, and not because of societal “norms”. At least I personally found it easy to by sympathetic to Anna, even in the end, but if it had been Vronsky in her shoes, I’m not sure I would have felt the same way about the situation. And in that way, I think Tolstoy was kind of protecting Anna’s femininity, rather than demeaning it, if that makes any sense at all.

        I’m probably just blabbering, sorry! There’s a LOT to unpack with “Anna Karenina”, and while this book IS considered a classic, I actually feel like Tolstoy doesn’t get enough credit for it. It’s not just a boring dramatic tale of the lives of some 19th century Russians. There’s a LOT of deep thinking about life here, and I think Tolstoy wanted his readers to walk away THINKING about it. And we’re proof that if that was his intention, he succeeded! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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