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 observer and catalyst of many of the both melodramatic and sarcastic events which unfold therein. Sometimes, however, he is not present at all! It is a particular gift of Tolstoy's to be able to introduce a character, shortly thereafter evincing their very own perspectives on life, and seamlessly interspersing these as the story progresses.
Indeed, in this way there are not one but many stories Tolstoy tells. We follow not only Oblonsky, but his wife Dolly, his good friend Constantine Dmitrich Levin, his sister Anna Karenina, her husband Alexei Alexandrovich Karenina and her lover Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, and a great many others. And, of course, like most Russian writers or the day, we are given a harsh, objective, yet sometimes playful and lighthearted portrayal of peasant life in serfdom.
But Tolstoy is unique if for nothing other than his extraordinary attention to social, industrial, psychological, and environmental detail. For example, one is not merely invited into the home of a landowner and served tea ala Gogol, or made as a passive observer to peasant hardship as Chekhov would have it. Tolstoy thoroughly engages the reader in each facet of the emotional and physical lives of nearly every personality encountered. Thus while in the city jealousies brew, hearts dance, and indulgences are satisfied, we are sometimes someplace entirely different whetting our scythes, drinking vodka on the fields, eating bread and drinking grassy water from a rusty bucket. Yet, indeed, while all this continues we could just as well be lying destitute on a deathbed or contriving ambitious schemes of public government. And still more is happening all around us -- the world grows and fades, colors and clothes of all sorts pass us by, random faces steeped in meaningful expressions appear on every street.
When one picks up Tolstoy, they must be prepared to tread a great many worlds in one, each with its own array of beauty and despair.
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.