Friday, March 26, 2010

Guest Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

We've got our first guest book review here at the Blue Bookcase! Please welcome Ingrid, here to review the Russian classic, Anna Karenina.

Hi! My name is Ingrid. I am currently student of Comparative Literature, which means I study a lot of literary theory, history, and criticism. I tend toward analytical readings though I also enjoy my literary candy - a little Kurt Vonnegut & Chuck Klostermann, and for some reason I love memoirs about growing up in polygamy (think Carolyn Jessop, Elissa Wall.) Don't ask me why. Some of my favorite authors are Leo Tolstoy, Margaret Atwood, Vladimir Nabokov, Goethe, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust.
Here's a review of one of my favorite books.

Published: 1878

It's about: The book begins with the famous first sentence "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Throughout the novel Tolstoy explores the question, how are happy families alike? What makes a family happy? What makes an unhappy family? The two major contrasting narratives are of St. Petersburg society woman Anna Karenina - who has an affair with a young officer Vronsky, and Konstantin Levin who comes to find happiness through family life in the country.

I thought: This is one of my favorite books, and I've read it multiple times. In fact, my copy is literally falling apart. I love Tolstoy's genuine and endearing characters - especially Levin, who has a certain childlike awkwardness and tendency toward self coaching ("Shall I tell her now? But that's why to tell her, because I'm happy now, happy at least in hopes ... And then? ... But I must! I must! Away, weakness!").

Tolstoy has a particular ability to get to the heart of complex emotions so succinctly. For example, as title character Anna is taking the train home after meeting Vronsky: "Anna Arkadyevna read and understood, but it was unpleasant for her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other people's lives. She wanted too much to live herself." Much like Anna, I found that this book made me just want to live. It helped me appreciate the small acts of living and find beauty in the prosaic. Though the book itself is long (817 pages,) the style is engaging and relatively easy to read.

Verdict: Put it on the shelf!

Warnings: Themes of adultery and suicide, but no graphic scenes or bad language.

Thanks, Ingrid, for a great review!