Anna Karenina: A Review of Sorts

I finally finished Anna Karenina! There were times when I wasn’t sure that was ever going to happen, and not just because the book has a lot of pages. I had high hopes for this novel, especially since so many have declared it the best novel ever written. And the first sentence – “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – may be one of the best sentences ever to begin a book. Unfortunately, I found the rest of the book long, verbose and tedious at times.

Anna Karenina was not a typical choice for me. However, I’ve been trying to catch up on all the “best ever” books that I seemed to have missed out on during my school days. I decided on Anna Karenina because a friend of mine was reading it. She read me some passages from the book and it sounded interesting, so I downloaded the free version for my Kindle. I’ve been told this was my first mistake. Translations are important I know, but I had already spent more than I should have on yarn and couldn’t justify the extra book expense right before the holidays, so free version it was.

There were actually times when I had a hard time putting the book down. The characters were interesting and written in such a way that they seemed very real. I could identify with most of them and found myself interested in their lives and struggles. I also think it was a good study of class struggle, relationships, and the hypocrisy and narcissism that often plagues us humans.

But there were also parts of the story that were dull and pedantic. Tolstoy gave such a long description about farming techniques and peasants that I found myself, after about 3 pages, wondering what it was I had just read. Even worse, these ramblings were not necessary for advancing the plot. Once I figured out I could just skim these parts, the story moved along a little quicker.

The end was disappointing. I will try my best not to spoil it for you. While I was sympathetic to Anna’s struggles with her reality (partly self-created and partly a consequence of the era she lived in), hers seemed too typical and easy an end.  I was very unsatisfied with the way Anna and Vronsky’s story ended – not necessarily in the how, but in the way it was written. It left me wanting more.

I could not relate to Levin’s conflict in the end at all. It seemed to come out of nowhere and his conclusions attained abruptly. This was the most disappointing for me since for most of the book I felt like I identified with him the most, as he was the character who saw through all the nonsense and hypocrisy. I felt both the main characters took the easy way out in the end at the expense of the story. I say this because I think Tolstoy provided each of them with false choices and it left me feeling let-down. I’ve read that Levin’s struggle at the end mirrors Tolstoy’s own struggle with religion and meaning of life, but I found myself actually arguing with him that he was missing the larger point, or maybe I was missing the larger point. If Tolstoy were alive today and in Indiana, or Levin was real, we could have had a lively discussion that day.

I know I did not choose the best translation. I don’t know if reading a better translation will change my view of  the story. It will be a long while before I test that theory.

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