"Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy

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What is Anna Karenina? It is considered by its author to be his first novel, an interesting claim, since it was published ten years after War and Peace (1867 vs. 1877). For Tolstoy the novel had a more limited definition than a “fictitious prose narrative of considerable length” (quoting the very helpful introduction by Richard Pevear, one of the translators, along with Larissa Volokhonsky). Pevear goes on to cite Tolstoy’s framing of Anna Karenina: he would portray a small group of main characters (seven, all of whom are related by birth or marriage), set in the present and dealing with personal lives of upper-class family and society.

What else is Anna Karenina? It is:
- a marvel of energetic, unflagging story, paced beautifully over 700-800 pages
- a supremely realistic treatment of the mental and emotional states of its characters
- an especially brilliant exposition of the internal dialogues of its co-main characters, Anna     Arkadyevna Krenina and Konstantin Dmitrich Levin
- a report of the current affairs of the time: cultural, geopolitical, artistic, social, and literary
- an unblinking look at society’s subjugation of women in Czarist Russia at that time

The heart of Tolstoy’s enduring genius: he triumphs by setting forth the recognizable and relatable urges and decisions of human characters. And he follows these trails faithfully to their logical ends. No decision, no statement, no concern, no aspiration ascribed to any character deviates from obvious and understandable motives, with the possible exception of Anna toward novel’s end. (Although even those fractured and desperate calculations ring tragically true.) Of course this is not unique among novels, but Tolstoy manages it through so many events, major and minor, draws out the evolution of each character’s progress through so many thresholds and experiences - it’s awe-inspiring.

He also honors his characters; he’s generous but he doesn’t let his indulgence bleed into the maudlin or sentimental. He forgives no one. He sets his characters in motion and they play their roles to perfection, leading to not one, but two, perfect denouements. This novel deserves every accolade it has received.


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