For years, I didn’t want to read Anna Karenina because I thought it was all about an affair. It’s a painful subject to me as it cuts too close to home (ie. I’ve seen personally just how it affects a family and therefore, usually am not interested in reading it either). Suffice to say, my OCD-ness in being able to tick this book of the list (BBC Top 100, 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, etc) and seeing that I’d have some support in a read-along, drove me to actually pick it up. I’m sort of glad that I did. Whilst it was painful reading about the beginning of the affair, there was so much more in this book. I don’t think the Anna bits were even half of the book, maybe 30-40%, and yet, this book is titled ‘Anna Karenina’.
The book opens with Anna’s brother who is currently in ‘hot water’. Prince Stepan “Stiva” Arkadyevich Oblonsky is a man whom you just could not keep down. Whatever the situation is, somehow, he’s always seems bubbly. To begin with, he is someone that you would just wanna slap silly but… whilst he doesn’t really change in the book (and I think this is the key), you come to tolerate him for who / what he is.
To help Stiva out of the ‘hot water’, Princess Anna Arkadyevna Karenina came as a peacemaker. Anna is introduced as someone absolutely stunning and alive, admired and loved by just everybody. By random chance, she met Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky by whom she was made to feel alive (despite the first impression of being lively). Both Anna and Vronsky felt that there is nothing else and no one else in this world than the other.
Vronsky, a former dedicate of the Bachelorhood, broke the heart of Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya when he, obviously, just do not see her anymore even though she stood right in front of him. Kitty is very young, naïve, and impressionable. She is one of my most loved character in this book though as she grew in maturity and is, basically, goodness itself!
Nikolai Dmitrievich Levin was one of Kitty’s suitors. He is the most likeable character in this book, by far. He’s what you’d call a country gentry who is actually interested in the works (both physical and mental). You’d see straight off that he’s just one good and straight bloke who still strives to a better person even at the end of the book.
Aside from Anna, the most pitiable character would be Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin. He was obviously not a popular guy nor the most balanced person. It seems most people do not like him at all but for me, I pity him right from the beginning as I see that even though he is not well-liked by his peers, he is nonetheless, a person with feelings and needs of his own.
Thoughout the read-along, I’ve concentrated most of my rants on the characters as I just found that to be the best way for me to make sense in my rants / review. I have only slightly disclosed what you can expect at the beginning of the book but I’d not go further as that’s something for you to discover. If you do decide to pick this book up, I’d suggest to NOT give up within the first 25% (parts 1 & 2) of the book as that’s the toughest part.
The rest of the book was quite enjoyable although Tolstoy’s comments on the Russian politics, agriculture, etc were not to my interest but then again Stieg Larsson employed the same sort of thing with his Millenium series (comments on Swedish economic / financial in the first book, abstract maths in the second, and violence against women in the third). I still don’t understand why this book is the “greatest novel ever written” but I kind of enjoyed the reading although that might mostly be due to the great support I had from other participants in the read along 😉
If you are interested in my full-of-spoilers read-along blog posts, here are the links: