Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina I read War and Peace in school a few years ago, in a great course called "Napoleon vs. Tolstoy," and really enjoyed most of it.  I felt like Tolstoy's characters were great, and that he had a very interesting way of taking on the Napoleonic Wars from Russia's perspective.  Of course, Tolstoy only focuses on upper-class characters, the aristocracy of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and so I was interested in reading more of his works.  Of course, the fact that Anna Karenina was in the process of being adapted into a movie staring Kiera Knightly, who is absolutely lovely, didn't hurt either.  A few years later, I still haven't seen the movie, but I now have read the book, with the intent of using it for the Popsugar Reading Challenge category of "A classic romance."  Now, when I read "A class romance," my mind immediately goes where most people's probably does: Pride and Prejudice.  But I wanted to read something else (though I do love P&P, I didn't want any Jane Austen this time around) and so I picked Anna Karenina, which is really two classic romances in one, and which is different than Austen in a very real way.

See, Anna Karenina doesn't end happily for everyone.  If that's a spoiler... Well, it's not, because the book's been out for ages and at this point I don't think anything can really be a spoiler for it.  But there are two romances involved: Anna's with Count Vronsky, and Levin's with Kitty.  These two couples are intrinsically opposed, and most of the book that focuses on them is composed of parallel scenes: similar setups that show exactly how different the same situations can end up, based on the people who are interacting.  Of course, Tolstoy's female characters tend toward the wildly dramatic and his men towards either extremely glib or extremely grim.  Tolstoy doesn't really seem to do "middle ground" that much; this was the case in War and Peace, too, as I remember.  And Tolstoy is also not only an author, but a philosopher, which means that the book isn't just a story, it's a philosophical treatise.  Now, in War and Peace the philosophy was about Tolstoy's theory of history.  In Anna Karenina, it seems to be something about people's connection to the land, something about the will of the people, and something about the meaning of life, or maybe all three just mixed together.  Philosophy isn't exactly my strong suit, and Levin bonking me over the head with it over and over again didn't sit well with me.

There's not much really to be said about Anna Karenina beyond that, to me.  After all, it's a classic, and most things that are to be said about classics have already been said.  Overall, though, I did enjoy the book, especially the climactic scene at the train station.  The 50 pages of philosophy that followed?  Not so much.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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