Anna Karenina

I finished reading Anna Karenina! All 976 pages of it, whew. It was really good, I highly recommend it. However, I definitely think about 300 pages of it could be cut out without taking anything away from the story, especially in Part 3. I had been wanting to read this book for a while, but I was a bit apprehensive because it was written in the 1800's by famous Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, so I expected it be a challenging read. When in reality it was actually a pretty easy read, just long. There are 7 main characters and 160 minor characters to keep straight with multiple story lines, that occasionally intertwine, which makes it a very interesting book. What I found most surprising was how very similar the characters in the book are to people living now in the 21st century. This story could give Gossip Girl a run for it's money. The only difference is that instead of carriages we have cars now, and instead of telegrams we send e-mails. Something I keep learning through reading and traveling is that people are all the same, regardless of country or time period. It's amazing.

I want to warn you though, not to make the mistake of reading the introduction by Malcolm Cowley because he will give away one of the biggest events in the story. I was so upset that before the book even started I already knew the ending. Ridiculous. However, aside from that he tells you some interesting things about Tolstoy such as, "Reading Homer in the original, he became so excited that he decided 'never again to write any such wordy trash as War and Peace." Are you kidding me?

The back of the book summarizes the story by saying, "A magnificent drama of vengeance, infidelity, and retribution, Anna Karenina portrays the moving story of people whose emotions conflict with the dominant social mores of their time. Sensual, rebellious Anna falls deeply and passionately in love with the handsome Count Vronsky. When she refuses to conduct the discreet affair that her cold, ambitious husband (and Russian high society) would condone, she is doomed. Set against the tragic love of Anna and Vronsky, the plight of the melancholy nobleman Constantine Levin unfolds. In doubt about the meaning of life, haunted by thoughts of suicide, Levin's struggles echo Tolstoy's own spiritual crisis. But Anna's inner turmoil mirrors the emotional imprisonment and mental disintegration of a woman who dares to transgress the strictures of a patriarchal world. In Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy brought to perfection the novel of social realism and created a masterpiece that bared the Russian soul."

The first line in the books is, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in it's own way." I think that was a major theme throughout the book. You see a lot of unhappiness among characters caused by the wrong-doings of family members, but also a lot of happiness that comes from doing what is right. Family relations are very central to this book. There is also a lot of talk of forgiveness in the book amongst the characters, but yet you can't seem to forget what's written before the book even starts (epigraph). "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." – Romans 12:19.

I underlined so many parts of the book, but here are just a few of the ones that stood out to me.
Page 47, "Here it is. Let's say you're married, you love your wife, but you're attracted by another woman." "Excuse me, but I absolutely cannot understand that - exactly as I couldn't understand how after eating my fill here I could go bast a bakery and steal a roll."
Page 82, It's too long to quote, but I'll just say that Tolstoy does a really good job of telling all sides of the story and I'm especially impressed at what a good job does with the women. He really talks and obviously understands how a woman would feel, especially in this circumstance.
Page 159, "The conversation had begun amiably, but just because it was now too amiable it came to a halt again. It was necessary to resort to the one sure and never-failing resource - gossip." It seems not much has changed in the past 130 years.
Page 164, Anna says, "I think if there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are also just as many kinds of love as there are hearts." Interesting, I would agree with that.
Page 224, Vronsky becomes even more endearing when he says to Anna, "I see something has happened. Can I be calm for even a moment when I know you have a sorrow I'm not sharing?"
Page 268, Kitty realizes that "Because of Varenka she understood the value of simply forgetting yourself and loving others, in order to be serene, happy and good."
Page 292, "I think that in any case the motive of all our actions is personal happiness." How true is that.
Page 319, "Hypocrisy in anything at all may deceive the most intelligent, shrewdest man, but the dullest child recognizes it no matter how skillfully it is concealed and is repelled by it."
Page 324, "Why does she talk to the children in French? he thought. How unnatural and false! And the children feel it. Teach them French and unteach them sincerity, he thought to himself." I don't know why, but I found this thought by Levin so funny.
Page 373, "But I'm married, and believe me, when you've known only your own wife, as someone once wrote, and love her, you know more about all women than if you had known them by the thousands."
Page 431, Vronsky reflects that, "At that time he had considered himself unhappy, but happiness lay ahead; while now he felt that his greatest happiness already lay behind him." "He looked at her as a man would look at a faded flower he had plucked, recognizing with difficulty the beauty for the sake of which he had plucked had destroyed it."
Page 496, Karenin has a spiritual awakening of sorts realizes that, "It never occurred to him that the Christian law he had wanted to follow throughout his life instructed him to forgive his enemies and love them; but the joyful feeling of love and forgiveness for his enemies filled his soul." On page 498 he continues, "I want to turn the other cheek, I want o give away my cloak because my coat has been taken; I only beseech God not to take away from me the joy of forgiveness!" And more on page 503, "He suddenly felt that the very same thing that had been the source of his sufferings had become a source of spiritual joy for him, and that what had seemed to him insoluble when he had been full of condemnation, reproach and hatred, had become simple and clear when he yielded to forgiveness and love."
Page 555, "In relationship to her he, who was such a virile man, not only never contradicted her but had no will of his own, and seemed to be preoccupied by nothing but how to anticipate her wishes." Man, some of these people like Vronsky are completely whipped! Levin too. On page 577, "It was painful to remain under such an unfair accusation, but it was even worse to give her pain by defending himself." It's almost ridiculous how in love these men are.
Page 633, "It's possible to sit for several hours with your legs doubled up in the same position if you know nothing is preventing you from changing it; but if a man knows he has to sit that way, with his legs doubled up, he will get cramps, and his legs will begin to jerk and strain in the direction he would like to stretch them."
Page 734, "If you love anyone you love them as they are, not as you want them to be." Amen to that.
Page 845, "There are no circumstances a man cannot grow accustomed to, especially if see everyone around him living the same way."
Page 918, "And the candle by which she had been reading that book that is filled with anxiety, deceit, sorrow and evil flared up with a brighter flame than ever before, lighted up everything for her that had previously been in darkness, flickered, dimmed, and went out forever." Probably the most powerful quote in the whole book in my opinion. I read that again and again and kept thinking, wow Tolstoy is genius.
Page 949, "He lives for his soul, he remembers God." On page 950, "To live not for one's needs, but for God." Levin's spiritual awakening is actually quite interesting.

2 Response to Anna Karenina

January 30, 2011 at 7:19 PM

Wow. 900+ pages. I am totally inspired although I don't know if I could ever take on such a book! Well done!

June 18, 2012 at 4:13 AM

This is just an amazing post. you have written so well. thanks .. . now I am following your blog


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