Saturday, 18 March 2017

Review of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classic/Russian Literature
No. of pages: 964
Date of publication: 1873-77 (originally serialised)
Author: Leo Tolstoy

About the Author

Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 into an aristocratic Russian family, and went on to become one of the most famous and critically acclaimed novelists ever, writing two especially famous books, War and Peace and then later Anna Karenina. Both are giant tomes, considered the pinnacle of realist fiction and containing more than a few autobiographical elements. The author renounced his aristocratic background, gave away much of his wealth and became an advocate of non-violence, being a major influence on many people including Mahatma Gandhi.


Anna Karenina is the story of a group of aristocratic characters in 19th century Russia, their trials, tribulations and relationships. Central to the book is the eponymous Anna Karenina who is stuck in a loveless marriage (fairly common at the time) and embarks on a passionate affair with a dashing young cavalry officer, Count Vronsky. It is also the story of country gentleman Konstantin Levin and his quest for happiness and fulfilment in life.


This book is long first and foremost, like a giant multi-series soap opera. It is not however a difficult book to read at all. I had the impression before that it would be dense and impenetrable, but it flows along very nicely and is much easier to read than, say, much of Charles Dickens' works. It is the story of many different characters, and their intertwining lives. About a quarter of the way through it, if you didn't know better you could think that the book was nearly finished - the plot starts slowly, jumps forward very fast and then slows down again after the first quarter. One way of looking at this book is that there is almost a thousand pages where nothing much happens, at least compared to more plot heavy books. I found myself however getting slowly, inexoraly drawn into the book, invested into the characters and their world, and by the end of the book I felt I'd spent half my life with them.

Some characters in the book I liked, some I found quite annoying, some sections were a bit boring for me, some quite fascinating. As well as the story of the characters, the book was an examination of life, it's meaning and how one can live it well. It does this through examining the characters thoughts and motivations, particularly Levin's, and to me this gave the book added weight and substance and helps me understand some of the book's greatness. This was certainly a very good book, though for me just a little bit too long. I'm giving it a solid 4 stars.

Who Should Read This Book

You should consider reading this if you enjoy reading classics, and like experiencing life in a different place and time through the pages of a book. You should read this book if you are up for a challenge, and what better challenge than this which was voted recently by a poll of writers as being the best novel of all time. It's also, believe it or not, a bit shorter than Tolstoy's other masterpiece, War and Peace. You should only read this if you've got time, and preferably decent chunks of time each day. Just reading 5 or 10 minutes at a time you are probably going to take an age to get through it and will probably get frustrated part way through. Finally, read this if you like, slow, thoughtful character led fiction - if you are a plot junkie that likes a fast paced novel you probably aren't going to enjoy this book.