Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
trans. Richard Pevear & Larissa Volohonsky
1.4.11 - 1.17.11

Rereading. Finished it so fast. The first time I read this, I was a freshman at Western, for a class taught by Professor Margaritas, about whom much is debated, particularly the origin (and authenticity)of his "accent".

He was an excellent (albeit exacting) professor, and this book was one of the five that we read (four? four and a short story?). I felt like I truly learned a lot from the class and felt I had a comprehensive (though far from complete) understanding of the novel. I read War & Peace on my own later on, and hoped I'd reread Anna Karenina before I died. I'm so pleased with (and proud of, truth be told) myself for getting to it three years later.

The parts that particularly struck me, aside from those that were the same from my initial reading, in particular were the ways Tolstoy described Levin in important moments--namely, with the preparation for his wedding and the birth of his son. I was so impressed with how he captured the bubble Levin was in, and he did it so sensitively and gracefully you knew immediately (without all of the indicators) that Tolstoy identified with him the most.

The other thing I noticed, or suspect, is that Tolstoy used the muzhiks intentionally, and the way Levin thought about them, as in, to work with them and understand his relationship with them, as a way of discovering his spirituality and beliefs contrasts so sharply with the fear Anna felt with the one in her nightmares, who also seemed to represent some kind of slow, inevitable natural process.

Which in turn makes me think, along with other moments here and there, that Tolstoy really wasn't at all sympathetic to Anna's character and decisions. Which isn't what I would have thought, initially. Especially because I feel sympathetic towards her. I know that as a woman in the 21st century I am bound to approach her dilemma differently than him, but it still surprises me that despite the different approach, we end up with different conclusions. I didn't think we would.

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