Thursday, August 25, 2011

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Leo Tolstoy said that Russians don't write novels, at least not in the European sense of the term, and then sought to create the Russian form. A master craftsman who reworked Anna Karenina several times in the course its composition, Tolstoy's impact with Anna Karenina is much more than aristocratic romance.

Anna Karenina is a study in contrast, two books in one. A tragedy and a comedy mirroring one another. Some of the most powerful feelings are evoked by this amazing epic. There seems to me to be something very ancient about the story of Mrs. Karenina. Tolstoy explicitly denied that this was a morality tale, but it is impossible to suppress the feeling that the unique Christianity Tolstoy evinced was not a very large factor in guiding his hand. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin crudely dropped the Christianity, and praised the novel for the comic half in which Konstantin Levin shows redemption through a proto-socialist work ethic.

I found the story of Anna to be less interesting than the story of Levin. The romance between Kitty and Levin is delicate and strained which tended to make Anna seem all the more unhinged (and at times flat-out obnoxious) by the power of Eros. The highest emotional point in this book, however, is the relationship between Anna and her son. I felt the struggle she was under, the feeling of being torn between duty and passion, and Anna became elevated to near-mythic status.

Tolstoy is the master of emotional realism, creating characters that are more real, and have feelings that are more real than reality. As far as technical craftsmanship is concerned, Anna Karenina is a lesson in the form of the realist novel.

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