Anna Karenina

When I re-read Anna Karenina this summer it got me thinking about the different ways literature works in different cultures and time periods.  I’m a huge fan of pre-revolutionary Russian literature because it’s intense and complicated and was such a widely used vehicle for political and social commentary and dissent.

I love how politics and literature intersect in Russian novels. There are a number of historical and cultural reasons why that happened in tsarist Russia, and you can see it in books from other countries and eras as well.  I don’t see it as much in current western literature, other than broad worldviews and the mildly annoying thoughtless irony/nihilism of writers who are trying too hard to be literary.  That’s too bad, because when it’s well done literature is an excellent way to discuss issues and differences.  However, doing that requires a lot of thought though, as well as a willingness to understand and sympathize with opposing viewpoints.

Anyway, Anna Karenina!  I won’t talk your ear off about how it’s a political novel (although it is) or how it’s really long (although it is).  I’ll just say that the characters and how they relate to each other and function in their positions (or in spite of them) make the book worthwhile.  I chose to re-read the book because I wanted to remember it clearly before watching the movie and  I’m interested to see how the film makers could possibly condense the many storylines into a coherent movie without losing the contrasts of the various relationships.  I may report back after I’ve seen it.

Although I recommend Anna Karenina, if you have limited time to devote to Russian literature I personally prefer Dostoevsky to Tolstoy.

Have you read or re-read any classics lately?


8 thoughts on “Anna Karenina

  1. I haven’t, although I’m about to reread The Great Gatsby. 🙂

    I’ve never read Anna Karenina; I’ve always hesitated at devoting that much of my reading time to a story I don’t think I’ll enjoy. Actually, I don’t know that I’ve ever finished a book by Tolstoy or Dostoevsky – I know I’ve started a few of them, but never made it to the end.
    Sheila @ The Deliberate Reader recently posted..Book Review: The Rope

    1. It’s hard for me to say if I would have enjoyed AK if I didn’t know anything about Russian history or care about it (I did a lot of Russians stuff in college, did an exchange program there in high school, etc). Some of it is really insightful and thought provoking, but large sections might bog you down if you don’t care about the politics side of it. Dostoevsky is just a master of human nature, so I think I would love him even if I wasn’t interested in Russia.

  2. Did you watch the movie? We loved it. It was so artsy and different. Kevin commented that it was almost like a Moulin Rouge feel. We both read the book before we watched the movie. We enjoyed both. I was really struck by how Anna Karenina was so powerless over her fate, in the society in which she lived. I don’t condone adultery but was angry and frustrated for her. She never had the freedom to pursue happiness without all the societal pressures. I was impacted by the book. Whilel I couldn’t fully sympathize with her, I did feel for her. I also thought Tolstoy did a marvelous job of putting me inside her head as she lost her sanity and became a crazy woman.
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    1. I just watched the movie last night and was shocked at how well done it was! It’s interesting that it made you sympathize more with Anna. I don’t really like her as a character. One line that they put in the movie that was only implied in the book was the woman who said “I’d call on her if she only broke the law; but she broke the rules.” I think that’s my issue with Anna. Other women were doing the same things (you find out from the book) but they were not flaunting social convention. Anna decided to be above (or beyond) those conventions, and then was crushed and went crazy because she suffered the fallout. She wanted to have her cake and eat it too. I’m not defending the adultery of the other women, or even the social conventions (and using the theater imagery in the movie was a BRILLIANT way of conveying that), but breaking the rules is only brave (Dolly never said that, it irked me that they put it in the movie) if you are willing to live with being a pariah, as Kostya’s brother was. A lot could be said (and probably has been) for what Anna was representative of in Russian society at the time, but even on purely human nature I don’t like her.

      The casting was interesting too, didn’t you think? I think you’d be crazy to throw over Jude Law for that simpery guy who played Vronsky! The casting for Kostya and Stiva was spot on though!

  3. I’ve started AK a few times and never finished. It’s the kind of book I want to sit down and read in large chunks. I’m not in that season of life right now. Someday, I will finish it.

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