Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy

Why is this book considered to be great?  It covers a lot of ground, but it should, because, after all, it's over 800 pages.  It basically examines the lives of three couples.  Stiva cheats on his wife Dolly, but, at the urging of Stiva's sister Anna, Dolly forgives him and tries to get past his infidelity in order to keep her family intact.  Dolly's sister Kitty eventually marries Levin—a forward-thinking man who manages a large farm.  Levin seems to me to represent the conscience of the novel, and, I presume, the opinions of the author.  The title character forsakes her stilted husband and beloved son for Vronsky, a handsome count, who charmed Kitty and almost derailed her union with Levin.  Anna's plight is the glue that holds the story together.  She becomes a pariah, stuck in limbo with a baby daughter that she doesn't love.  Her paranoia reaches epic proportions, as she imagines that Vronsky has another woman (or perhaps more than one), and her notion that he will cease to love her becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Her life goes into a downward spiral, as she becomes more and more insecure, despite having had the chutzpah to buck the system in the first place--by leaving her husband to live with her lover.  Tolstoy addresses a variety of political, religious, and social issues of the day, including evolution, divorce, the powerlessness of women, and education of the peasant workers.  Late 19th century Russia was still ruled by noblemen, but many of them were beginning to explore ways in which society could be restructured in order to improve agricultural output.  The version I read was a fairly recent translation (Pevear and Volokhonsky, 2001) and was very readable, but, honestly, 800+ pages is a long time to spend with these people.

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