Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anna Karenina

I have been absent for about a month, and with good reason: it has taken me 4 weeks to read Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I was surprised at how easy it was to read, and that may have something to do with the translation or it may not. Firstly, each part is separated down into chapters that only last for 4 pages or so; so you really feel like you're making progress when you're reading. Secondly, the pace and flow of the novel felt surprisingly modern. I say this when comparing Anna Karenina with Doctor Zhivago, which was writing much later and was much more difficult to read.

All I knew about Anna Karenina before I started reading it was that it was considered one of the greatest love stories ever written. I didn't know much else, except that she committed suicide. On reading it, it is far more complex that I had ever expected. Anna's love story with Vronsky really didn't touch me - it felt immature, shallow and selfish (like the two characters). It was Kitty and Levin's love story that really stole the whole show for me. I would flick through the chapters about Anna just to pick up Levin's story again.
   If I were naming the novel, I certainly wouldn't have chosen 'Anna Karenina'. But reflecting on that point, Anna Karenina's love story is like a smoke screen for the real, rich and mature love that Levin and Kitty develop. Maybe Tolstoy wanted the reader to focus more on Anna, and for her brilliance and beauty to overwhelm the other aspects of the story. For me, however, Anna's beauty and charm was like the perfect red skin on a rotten apple.
   Anna's relationship with Vronsky wasn't ill-fated. She drove it that way, with her insecurities and bi-polar type mood swings. Because my reading of Madam Bovary was so fresh, I kept drawing similarities between the two women. Vronsky, a shallow and self-centred man with little emotional maturity, didn't know how to deal with Anna. A pity there wasn't couples' therapy back in Russia in the 1870s!
   Levin's character, however, was fascinating. He is complex, deep-thinking, progressive, yet holds onto his values; he is scientifically trained which causes him to question faith all the way through the novel, but at the end he finds faith and it calms him tormented soul. His torment over the birth of his son was also fascinating - he excepted to instantly feel an overwhelming love, but instead he felt repulsion and pity. I really appreciated how candid Tolstoy was through Levin's thoughts and feelings.
   It is a real achievement to finish this novel, and I recommend it to committed readers who haven't tried. It's not as difficult as it first appears!

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