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 🙂
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.
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?