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Anna Karenina

a novel by Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • Jun 27, 2009
Anna Karenina is my favorite novel. Originally published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877, it is regarded by many as the pinnacle of realistic fiction. With its themes of fidelity and infidelity, city life versus country life, and depth of thought versus superficiality it addresses fundamental aspects of human behavior. It is narrated from a third person omniscient perspective that shifts from character to character allowing the reader to see the point of view of several of the main characters of the story. The title leads one to believe the book is Anna’s story, but for me it is the story of Levin and how he searches for (and eventually finds) meaning in a silent, meaningless universe.
One theme is fidelity and infidelity, especially the story of the married Anna and her unhappy love affair with Vronsky. The story begins with confusion and uproar in the household of Stepan (“Stiva”) Oblonsky. Oblonsky’s wife Dolly has just discovered that her husband has been having an affair with the maid. Oblonsky’s sister Anna Karenina arrives for a visit as does Oblonsky’s childhood friend Konstantin Levin, who plans to propose to Dolly’s youngest sister Kitty. On top of all of this, the visiting Kitty is being courted by a young army officer named Vronsky. Anna convinces Dolly that Oblonsky didn’t mean anything by the affair, and she soon forgets all about it and resumes her life as before. Kitty rejects Levin thinking she’ll get a proposal from Vronsky, but Vronsky is smitten by Anna and pursues her. She initially rejects him, but this just spurs him on. Anna returns to her husband, but is unsatisfied and thinks constantly of Vronsky. Levin goes back to his country estate and broods over his rejection by Kitty. Ultimately, Anna and Vronsky begin an affair and she becomes pregnant by him. Levin and Kitty become happily married.
As the story unfolds, we see that Levin is the deep thinker in this cast of characters. Some have said that many aspects of Levin’s personality reflect Tolstoy and his views. Levin struggles to understand what is true and what is false in life, and he finds transcendent pleasure in the exhaustion that comes from hard physical labor as he mows the fields with the peasants: “The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when his arms no longer seemed to swing the scythe …” The enjoyable times Levin experiences on his country estate suggest that simple country life is preferable to the chaos and bustle of the city.
 Another theme is how some people reflect and feel deeply whereas others proceed through life in a superficial fashion. For example, Levin constantly questions the meaning of things and Anna and Vronsky experience deep emotional turmoil as a result of their illicit love affair. Oblonsky and Dolly however are very superficial and not bothered by deep thoughts. Oblonsky’s affair with the maid is quickly forgotten.
Although often a tortured, deep thinker, Levin also can be a delightfully goofy character at times. Just before he becomes engaged to Kitty, he is brooding about death and the insignificance of any individual life, but soon everyone and everything is wonderful and he experiences a heightened appreciation of every little detail on the night of his engagement. He is attached to and fond of everyone he runs into that night.

The last part (Part 8) of the book focuses on Levin's struggle to find meaning in life. At one point, he becomes very discouraged by the reality that all living things will die - the peasants he is fond of and even the farm horse. Levin concludes that absolute truth is beyond understanding and goodness is beyond reason and without cause or consequences: "If goodness has a cause, it is no longer goodness; if it has a consequence - a reward, it is also not goodness." That is, goodness is something to be strived for regardless of reward or punishment. There's no use worrying and trying to determine the meaning of life. Rather, each person must find their own meaning in life.

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August 06, 2010
Great review Steve! Have you seen the 2007 movie Anna Karenina? @Byron_Kolln wrote a review of it that I thought you may be interested in. :)
September 29, 2009
Good review!
More Anna Karenina (book) reviews
review by . June 10, 2010
We start out in one man's head. A sin has been committed against his wife -- that of adultery -- but is it really so wrong to merely follow one's own true feelings? Should one persist in a state like induced catatonia if the life one leads is conducive to one's happiness? This question is considered again and again in Tolstoy's epic classic.      Oblonksy, a highly intelligent, clever, though lazy and not particularly learned man, skirts across Russia as both …
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
One of the greatest novels ever. Tolstoy has a profound ability to explore his characters, however much he seems to hate them.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
everything one would expect from a great Russian writer
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Loved it!
Quick Tip by . June 26, 2010
I like the story. You learn as well a bot about the Russian culture and history.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
A lesser-known gem by one of the most prestigious authors in history.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
Perhaps one of the most fascinating stories of all time. Once you read this you'll understand why it's considered a classic. The story is as relevant today as it was when it was published. It's one of my favorite books.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
i have been actively reading anna karenina for eight years. it's gorgeous and awe-inspiring... but it's just too damn long! sorry, leo. sorry, most russian authors. still love y'all!
Quick Tip by . June 11, 2010
good romance and character study.
review by . October 03, 2009
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, is perhaps the world's greatest novel.   If the story took place today, Anna would divorce Karenin, keep custody of her child, marry her lover, launch a career as an author, and divorce her second husband to embark on a third and finally happy marriage. No tragedy there.  And Kitty would move in with Vronsky before he met Anna,spoiling her future relationship with Levin. No bliss.    As it is instead, there is more drama than can be packed into …
About the reviewer
Steve DiBartola ()
Ranked #153
I was invited to join Lunch by one of the developers, who apparently read some reviews I posted on Library Thing. My interests are books, music, and movies. I enjoy both classical and contemporary fiction, … more
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About this book



ISBN-10: 0451528611 (MM pbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780451528612 (MM pbk.)
Publisher: Signet Classics
Date Published: November 5, 2002

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