Book Review, Fiction, Leo Tolstoy, Literature, Russian

Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

There is so much to say about this novel, one hardly knows where to begin. I suppose the best place to start is with the notion that this novel is “the greatest love story of all time.” Well, it’s not really a love novel, not in the traditional sense, anyway. Many who have read this novel, or who have heard of the story, have often believed that Anna Karenina committed suicide because she was a hopeless, wretched romantic, slighted by love. On the contrary, Anna was indeed loved intensely by two separate men, both of whom she destroyed emotionally and even socially/politically. The comparison which Tolstoy makes, and which many ignore, is between Anna and Levin. It is Levin’s epiphany at the end of the novel, that intellect and “book learning” mean nothing if they distract one from the love and salvation of God. This is what Anna herself could not do. She was consumed with self-absorption and with her own power over male minds and passions. This narcissism led to her despair and, eventually, to her death. Levin, in a similar situation to Anna, unhappy with life, with his lover, and with his family, stumbled upon the answer to happiness in a higher power – not in religion, but in the grand idea of God’s supreme knowledge and plan. This, perhaps, is the notion behind the “greatest love story,” though I doubt most realize this; instead, people seem to focus on Anna’s ostracized position in society. What Tolstoy is saying, though, is that Anna chose this life and therefore deserves it. She set aside two husbands and two children, by two different husbands, in search of personal, selfish happiness. The novel, truly, might be one of the greatest of all time – but the real reason for this seems lost on the majority of readers. I find much similarity between this novel and Tolstoy’s other famous discussion on the meaning of life, realized at the moment of death, in The Death of Ivan Ilyich. As for this edition itself, there are quite a few surface errors but the translated prose is quite beautiful – I only wish I knew Russian so that I could read the story in its original language. The flow is quite moving.

Final Verdict: 5.0 out of 5.0

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