“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” So begins this novel, with one of it’s most famous lines, but only one of many in which the author makes broad and though-provoking statements about human nature. Anna Karenina is a study of relationships, love, and adultery - especially Anna’s passionate affair with Count Vronsky. This simple description of the plot, however, hides the truly staggering depth of the novel. Along with Vronsky and Anna’s relationship, the many other romantic relationships presented raise questions about the nature of love; about the way society views men and women differently for their romantic choices; and about what it means to be happy.
The writing in this book was a pleasure to read, one of those books were you savor the sentences. The author is often funny, dry, or witty in his insights into human nature. The characters are all amazingly well developed, with both good and bad qualities and believable motivations. Even when characters don’t seem very sympathetic at first, Tolstoy does an incredibly job pulling you into each character’s world view and making you feel for them. The relationships are as complex as the characters and could be difficult to follow. Fortunately, Tolstoy introduces characters clearly and slowly so his readers can keep up. My only complaint would be that he often uses full names, titles, and Russian nicknames for characters, which does make it harder to keep track of who is who.
One complaint you’ll often hear about this novel, is that Tolstoy enjoys his digressions. There are hunting expeditions, local elections, and so many character’s philosophical musings, none of which advance the romantic plots that pulled me in. Some of these didn’t bother me, since I enjoyed the book for the author’s study of human nature. Still, I was going to give this novel four stars for the philosophical discussions of things that interest me less than love and relationships, such as the Russian economy. But when I sat down to write the description, I realized that this was a novel so good, I didn’t feel I could do it justice in my description. Anna’s bravery and passion for life captured my heart, as she has the hearts of so many others. Read this one for the characters, the commentary on life, but mostly for the experience of meeting Anna because no one but Tolstoy can really do her justice.This review first published on Doing Dewey.