Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Anna Karenina

I decided to read this book by Leo Tolstoy because it has frequently been ranked as the best novel ever. While I would not rate it that highly, Tolstoy does spin a good story. At over 800 pages, it understandably is slow at times, but overall it kept a good pace. I don't think I would rank Anna Karenina in the top ten of my favorite books ever, but it is in my top five best written books I have read.

The novel basically has two stories, one about Anna and one about Levin, both upperclassfolk. Anna runs off with a fellow who is not her husband and earns the scorn of society; her story is rather pitiable. Levin tries to follow his high-minded principles of peace with nature and happiness through hard work. I particularly liked Levin, especially his philosophies on society, government, and economics.

As I mentioned before, Anna Karenina dragged a bit around the three-quarter mark, which was really unfortunate. I went from enjoying the book thoroughly to ambivalence in short order, and subsequently couldn't muster much enthusiasm for the end, even though the final 150 pages were probably the best in the book.

Tolstoy's greatest skill, I think, is his ability to depict a person's stream of consciousness. I was frequently struck with how vivid and natural his characters' inner monologues were, and this really helped me identify with them.

Obviously, for a book to become a timeless classic, it needs a few themes. My main impression of Tolstoy's theme is that society is shallow and frivolous, and true happiness comes from living a simple life. The high society members, although living with all the comforts of a modern 19th century city and having many hours each day to gossip about their peers, never seem fully happy. Most of the rural farmers we meet, on the other hand, really appear to have it together and are content with their lives. Not a bad theme, I guess.


Katie said...

Hey there David,
I read this book about a year ago, and it is now sitting, collecting dust, with a bookmark right around the 3/4 mark. Your review might inspire me to pick it up for the last pages! :)

I agree with was a slow book at times, but overall i liked it. not my favorite book of all time, but they cant all be favorites i guess. With all your studying, when did you find time to read such a huge tome?

Chick in the Czech said...

I love Anna Karenina. I get a really good satisfied feeling whenever I finish it.

Mom said...

Davey, what a coincidence! Just before I read your post I read this interesting blog, to which Abbie fortunately introduced me, and Emily made the same point as Tolstoy's theme!

"I read, I sew, I snuggle with my kids, I roll my own tortillas, and I discuss religion and politics with the smartest guy I know. These are quality of life items for me. Buying new throw pillows and more shoes, not so much."

Isn't that what Tolstoy was trying to say?!