Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 
(first sentence)
Front Flap:  Anna Karenina has beauty, social position, wealth, a husband and an adored son, but her existence seems empty.  When she meets the dashing officer Count Vronsky she rejects her marriage and turns to him to fulfill her passionate nature-with devastating results.  Anna Karenina is both an immortal drama of personal conflict and and social scandal and a vivid, richly textured panorama of nineteenth century Russia.   Translation by Richard Peaver and Larisse Volokhonsky

I'll admit that before I read Anna Karenina, didn't have a clue what it was about. It was one of those, have it on the shelves, inherited books that everyone says is a must read.  Having read War and Peace, (link to review)  which I enjoyed immensely, I sort of expected it to be in the same vein.   Instead - drama, angst, introspection, jealousy, hatred, spite, love and death.  Oh, the angst of it all!  Imagine back of hand against forehead as I swoon.

At heart the story is all about Anna Karenina and her adulterous relationship with Count Alexei Vronsky.  It is also an in depth look into Russian society, life and death, faith and forgiveness, social class and mores, plus the struggle for change and agriculture.  

The story revolved around several characters beginning with Prince Stephan (stiva) Arkadyevitch Oblonsky (Anna's brother). His wife, Dolly, discovers he's been unfaithful (with the governess) and is threatening to leave him.  In the midst of the turmoil, his sister Anna arrives.  In addition, his childhood friend, Konstantin Levin also comes to moscow and plans to propose to Dolly's little sister Kitty who is being courted by Count Vronksy.  When Stiva goes to pick up Anna at the train station, Vronsky is there to pick up his mother.  Vronsky sees anna and is instantly attracted, totally forgetting about Kitty who had been expecting him to propose.  So when Levin proposes, she turns him down only to discover Vronsky's fallen in love with Anna, a married woman.  

Anna falls in love with Vronsky and once her husband discovers the affair, is willing to look the other way as long as she continue to be his wife and act proper in public.  Meanwhile, you have Levin, the philosophical farmer in which there are many discussions about farming and life, who eventually does win Kitty's hand in marriage.  Levin is a unique individual and Tolstoy gives the reader an inside view of Levin's thinking process.  Think stream of consciousness and interior monologueing.  He is amusing and sad at the same time. 

All in all, I'd have to say Anna Karenina is a fascinating look into Russian society.  The men find all sorts of justification for adultery while the women pay the price and are full of angst.  It is a completely different read from War and Peace, but well worth taking the time. By the time you are done reading it, your brain is completely saturated, but that is Leo Tolstoy for you.   You won't want to read anything else for a while.   It is one of those books you have to mull over and digest so it is best read in small chunks,  reading only a few chapters at a time. 

Pages: 864
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Genre:  Russian Literature 


  1. I'm giving this one a go this summer!!

  2. I have attempted this before but didn't finish. One day I definitely want to try again.
    Thanks for the review.

  3. I read this one for my AP English class in high school, eons ago, and am currently reading it for the first time since then. I'm about a third of the way through and am enjoying it immensely.

    Yes, it's a very different book from War and Peace, and I must admit I like War and Peace more.

    Enjoyed your review! Glad to see I'm not the only one with my nose buried in a thick Russian novel this winter!

  4. I want to read this - I've checked it out multiple times from the library. I'm afraid that if I do try, my book count for the year will be 1. :/

  5. @staci - yeah!

    @embejo - thanks for dropping by. It's one of those have to be int he mood books.

    @Nina - I seem to be getting more and more drawn in by Russian literature. Have a few more on the shelves calling my name.

    @Monica - hope you get the chance at some point to read it. I read a couple short books in between to give my brain a rest. Anna Karenina isn't one you can read fast.


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