[Book Review] Anna Karenina

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What do we all live for? Do we live simply because we exist? Because we were sent into this planet by a God with a “bigger plan”? Does this question even matter?

In Anna Karenina (Liev Tolstoy, Vintage, 976 pages), that question is the essence of the entire story. The book follows mostly the story of two couples: Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky and Kitty Shcherbatsky and Constantine Levin. Without telling spoilers, I can say in advance that these couples are radically different in absolutely everything, especially on the development of their stories.

As I began reading this, I assumed it would be mostly about Anna and Vronsky and, I must admit, was a bit disappointed to find out that Levin dominated most of the book. Though he is quite an interesting character – it’s fascinating how much he changes throughout the book and how innocently he believes to be different from Moscow society when he actually isn’t –, I did grow impatient waiting for the focus to shift back to Anna. Levin, much like Tolstoy, questions everything, even himself; he judges everyone while not realizing how much wrong there also is in his behavior.

Anna, however, is one of those intoxicating characters that will make you take her side  and fight for it. She knows herself so well that she is ready to fight battles most of us wouldn’t be able to fight, to give up on what can’t be forgotten, to love when everything tries to keep her from loving. I loved everything about her, from beginning-of-the-book Anna to end-of-the-boo Anna, because she is more coherent than many people I know.

And Vronsky, oh, boy, Vronsky. Though he doesn’t even appear that much on the book, he is a constant presence on Anna’s behavior, shaping her every mood even if only on her mind. What makes Vronsky so remarkable is how human he is – unlike most “princes”, he has flaws and doubts, but also virtues and certainties. And don’t we all? That’s probably what made Anna and Vronsky into one of my favorite literary couples: the fact that their love, every time it was tested, came out stronger and deeper. Vronsky’s reactions to the facts around the story were, at least for me, better than anything Levin did on the entire story.

I must warn you about something, though. This is not an easy read. It’s nearly 1,000 pages long and there are about a gazillion characters, all with three Russian names and sometimes even a nickname. It’s also one of the best pieces of realism, so expect long (actually huge) chapters about Levin learning to mow, Levin learning to hunt, Levin learning about elections and – something highly frustrating if you’re an atheist like me – pages and pages about Levin finding God.

I promise, though, that it is worth every page. I began reading this because I wanted to know the story before watching the movie, considering it was such a long book and I might lose some interest after knowing the main events and, well, how it ended. It ended up surprising me completely: you learn to understand every side of everyone, whether you liked them at first or not. Just like us, these characters seem to be seeking the only possible answer to keep us living, the quest we fight for with more or less success, trying to touch it with clumsy hands: to be, even if for a moment, happy.

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10 thoughts on “[Book Review] Anna Karenina

  1. Nossa, eu li uma versão péssima de Anna Karenina, uma edição antiga, da Abril, traduzida do francês que, por sua vez, foi traduzida do inglês, que traduziu do russo ¬¬). Vi a nova versão cinematográfica esse ano. E gostei muito – do início para o meio. É uma obra linda, repleta de detalhes, mas desejo uma tradução melhor, estilo Cosac Naify, mais crua, mais verdadeira.
    Abraços.

    • Essa minha edição, pelo que eu fiquei sabendo, traduziu algumas coisas desnecessárias pro inglês. Quem sabe daqui a uns 30 anos, quando for reler, eu já saiba russo o suficiente pra ler no original 😛

  2. Oh my God. I was thinking about reading it, cause I also did not want to watch the movie before the book. But now, I must buy the damn think immediately! I find it so amazing when the characters in a book are flawed, but still so incredibly likable. It makes them fascinating, but for their own humanity. I am dying to meet and understand every aspect of Anna, as well of Vronsky, and see how one can change the other so much. Also, what you said about Anna made me very curious. It must be so good to meet someone who is so sure of herself, and it’s so very fearless and strong. It’s bound to be a very inspiring character, indeed. I think it can even compensate the annoying realism bits of the book.. :)) I guess I better run with my current to-read books, so I can start on this fine piece of literature!

    • Do it!!! Read it before, I promise the movie will make a lot more sense (: I also love flawed characters – they are so real, aren’t they? It’s easier to relate to them. And especially on a book like this, it’s so important to understand everyone, I’m glad Tolstoy did this.
      And yes, Anna is insanely fascinating. Every single bit of her. And Vronsky is a lot more complex than the movie made him, so there’s another reason for reading! I promise it’s worth it – run with your books to get started! 😀

  3. I totally need to read it, now. Not fair, it’s such a big book! And don’t get me for a lazy reader. I’m not. It’s just that is a russian romance, not exactly a easy one. But everything you said made me wanna start it ASAP. Oh, dear, I better start to look for a epub version, haha.

    • It is kind of a challenge to get through the whole thing, but it is worth it, I swear hahaha And I’m sure there must be many epub versions in Portuguese with good translations, considering it’s such a classic – I had to read it in English because I only like to read on paper and Anna Karenina is somehow SO expensive in Portuguese o_o

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