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 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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PostSubject: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy   Wed Aug 24, 2011 3:32 pm

First off, while I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I admit that Tolstoy is not for everybody. Tolstoy, much like many other writers of this period, including Victor Hugo, loves to go off on tangents that have absolutely nothing to do with the plot or characters of the novel. History, social conditions (at that time and place), philosophy, and religion all get a going-over in Anna, as they did in War and Peace (it does not help that, supposedly, Tolstoy was experiencing several spiritual changes in his life when he wrote Anna Karenina).

Yet for me, nobody brings characters to vibrant, full-blooded life like Tolstoy. To be blunt, not many characters in this novel are likable, yet each are brought to life and made believable to the point where the reader can't help but feel some empathy toward just about all of them. I found pieces of myself in almost every major character, including the female ones. I can't think of a single contemporary writer today that can do that.

The novel involves two main characters: Anna Karenina (of course) and a man named Constantine Levin. Anna is a woman who feels trapped in a cold relationship with her much older husband, so she embarks on an affair with a dashing military officer. The affair turns into a serious relationship, with Anna getting pregnant and leaving her husband (and the son she had with him). This of course causes a scandal in Society (all the upper-class and aristocratic Russians value a high standing in Society more than anything else, it seems). And Anna, being a woman, gets the worst of it, as her contemporaries stop including her in activities and refer to her as "that indecent, fallen woman", while her lover, Vronsky, sees very little change in his Society standing among his own peers. Even though many may see Anna as being in the wrong for leaving her husband for another man, it is still heartbreaking to see her descend into emotional desolation as everyone around her, including, eventually, her lover, shuns her for daring to pursue her own happiness instead of staying in a cold, lifeless relationship with her husband.

The other character, Levin, is a young, honest, almost naive man who gets his heart broken near the beginning of the novel when his marriage proposal to the one he loves is turned down. He dedicates his life to his estate, and all the hard work that goes with it to make it prosperous. He is also a deep thinker when it comes to religion and spirituality, starting off as an agnostic and, eventually, finding in himself a deeper faith (this character is supposedly based on Tolstoy himself, so all of his character's spiritual changes may well reflect his own). His life is not nearly as eventful as Anna's, but he is the spiritual heart of the story. At the end of the book he has an emotional epiphany that goes on a bit too long, but I still enjoyed this character (though not as much as Anna).

Tolstoy captures emotions perfectly, wording them in a way that all readers can relate to, and imbues his characters with them. As I said, Tolstoy is not for everyone, but if you want to give this book a shot then I recommend it.

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So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way.--Joni Mitchell
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