[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.

[Additions to my bookshelf] March 15th, 2013

I have recently left my internship and, as a present, the wonderful people who work there gave me a gift card to my favorite bookstore, Livraria Cultura.

As the money was given to me and could be used at a bookstore only, it fits on Rule #2 and I’m allowed to buy books!

Here are the ones I have bought so far (yes, a very generous gift):

1. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy – The links are all to the actual edition I chose. I’m not a big fan on tie-in editions, but in this case I decided to buy the movie cover because a) it was cheap; b) it’s a gorgeous cover and c) tiny-but-gorgeous Aaron Johnson as Vronsky. Judge me if you want!

2. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan – Basically because of John Green. I have not the slightest idea what the book is actually about, but having loved An Abundance of Katherines (review here), Looking For Alaska (review here) and The Fault In Our Stars (review on its way), I trust Mr. Green and anything he touches.

3. Van Gogh, Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith – After Anna Karenina, this was the easiest one to choose. The edition I bought is hardcover, (decently, it seems) translated to Portuguese (which is, after all, my mother language), with colored illustrations and about 1,000 pages long. And it was considerably cheap – 80 reais, about 40 dollars, which is the original price. A bit heavy to carry around, so it’ll wait for vacations.

4. The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith – I had never heard about it, but after seing it at the bookstore decided to search for reviews from people whose tastes were similar to mine. I was happy to find out there was a positive review on The Infinite Curio, one of my favorite literary blogs, so I decided to give it a shot. (Also: CHEAP. It costs 16 reais in Brazil, around 8 dollars, and books, even paperbacks, haven’t been that cheap for a while).

4. Wonder, R. J. Palacio – To be quite honest, this was a shot in the dark. I hope I like it, especially since I bought it on hardcover. But I have been hearing a positive buzz surrounding it, so I guess it must be good.

5. The Duke and I, Julia Quinn – Two friends of mine like this author a lot and told me this was a great place to start. It seems to be the first of a series and, according to one of them, every book focuses on a member of a large family, but gives glimpses on the lives of previous couples (a bit like Meg Cabot’s Boy thrilogy, I guess). It also caught my eye that these are basically Jane Austen meets Sophie Kinsella, which must mean a good read. I had to import it, though, and my copy will only arrive in May!

For now, that is all, but there’s still some money left. I’m open to suggestions both on what else to buy and what to read first!