Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy — Reviewed by Guy Portman
Tolstoy’s opus is set against a backdrop of the emancipation of the serfs, the Pan Slavism movement, political change and technological advancement. The story follows three interrelated families — the Oblonskys, Levins and Karenins. Divided into 8 parts, this eight hundred plus-page classic delves into their lives over a period of some years. In addition to deaths, births, intrigues and scandals, are lengthy discussions on subjects ranging from the role of women to agrarian practices.
There is the captivating and capricious Anna Karenina, whose loveless marriage to the much older Karenin is threatened by her affair with the charismatic Count Vronsky. Anna’s brother is a spendthrift and womaniser by the name of Oblonsky. Dolly is his long-suffering wife and mother of his children. Pensive and philosophical landowner Konstantin Levin plans to propose to Dolly’s younger sister Kitty, but plagued by feelings of inadequacy, he fears rejection. The book’s themes encompass family life, morality, God, politics and class. Symbolism plays an important role, most notably trains.
Anna Karenina sees Tolstoy explore the full spectrum of human emotions from joy to despair. This is achieved in part through his extensive use of interior monologue, including in one instance Levin’s dog, Laska. There is undoubtedly a semi-autobiographical element with the tormented Levin. His socialist inclinations and preoccupation with finding the meaning of life mirror Tolstoy’s own concerns.
Though slow moving and ponderous, this evocative text rarely feels turgid. This reader appreciated the detailed, descriptive depictions of the characters, who are in a permanent state of flux.