Customer Reviews: Anna Karenina
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on March 2, 2001
Yes, this is the translation to read -- every sentence has been carefully thought through: a translation you could only get from a native-born Russian (Larissa Volokhonskaya) and an English-speaking person (an American, Richard Pevear, her husband) working together, with a native ear for BOTH languages. The prose just flows -- to the point I was hardly are conscious of reading a translation (the highest compliment). My wife (Russian) likes this English-language version so much she has read part of it, first out of curiousity just to see how good a translation can be, then for the pleasure of the English prose. She says Tolstoy in the original is better and since I can read some Russian, I agree. There are some words, expressions that are, after all, untranslatable -- maybe you can find a literally equivalent word, but not an emotionally equivalent one. So study your Russian (I intend to) and maybe someday read the orignial. Meanwhile, there's this. A great classic and a tour de force translation that just rings true on every page.
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on July 5, 2004
I read this book in 1993, and I still remember the experience. It has been called the greatest novel ever written and I agree.

It is a very long book: I read a few chapters a day over a long period of time. Over time the feeling developed that the characters, and Tolstoy himself (in Levin), were people I knew -- people with whom I spent some time each day. The philosophy was mind-expanding; I'm sure my views were affected.
For me, the important thing in reading this book was not to try to "get through" it, but to "visit" it as I would visit congenial neighbors. When I finished, I felt loneliness over loss of contact with the characters.
I'm going to read it again some day.
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on June 1, 2004
"Anna Karenina" (1873-7) is a book that could be compared to a beautiful mosaic of interlinked stories. Thanks to Tolstoy's book, we get to know characters who sometimes seem so real that we cannot help but living with them the series of events that are recounted in this book.
Who are the main characters?. Well, we might begin by telling something about Anna Karenina, the woman who gives this book its title. Anna is someone who has found some satisfaction in a marriage to a husband she doesn't love. Her life isn't exciting, but she is comfortable, and has a son that means everything to her. Her world will be shaken when a nobleman, Count Vronsky, falls in love with her. He pursuits Anna until he convinces her to become his lover, indulging in an adulterous affair. But... will he go on loving her, even after she risks all for him?. And did she do the right thing, by following her heart without thinking about the consequences of her actions?.
There are many more characters, but I would like to highlight one of them: Levin. Levin is a rather eccentric gentleman farmer, who worries about things like the meaning of life, and allows the reader to share with him the kind of doubts that many have had, but few voice. He ends up finding happiness, but his path is not easy, especially because he is prone to reflect on issues that cause him anguish. His story is linked at the beginning of the book to that of Anna and Vronsky because the woman he loves, Kitty Shcherbatskaya, thinks she loves Vronsky. However, as the story advances, you will probably end up comparing Anna and Vronsky's relationship to that of Kitty and Levin. One is all drama, and passion; the other, calm and contentment. Which one is better?. And according to whom?.
I want to point out how well Tolstoy depicted 19th century Russian society, especially the differences between social classes and how much hypocrisy permeated the moral codes of polite society. If you pay close attention you will notice that several themes also to be found in other classics are recurrent in "Anna Karenina". One of them is fate, and some of the others are the omnipresence of death, the meaning of life, and the power of faith. There are many more things I would like to say about this book, but I think you will do better if you start to read "Anna Karenina" right now, instead of spending more of your time reading a long review such as this one :)
On the whole, I highly recommend this book. It is one of those few books that don't allow you to remain indifferent. You might hate it or love it, but it will necessarily make you think about several important subjects, whilst reading a good story.
Belen Alcat
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on April 14, 2002
In my sophomore year of college, I was assigned ANNA KARENINA to be read in one week. ONE WEEK! Somehow I did it and it changed my life. I came back to the Tolstoy novel in the summer between my sophomore and junior years and then again in grad school. I just finished reading it for the fourth time.
Everything you've heard and read about ANNA KARENINA is true. It is one of the finest, subtlest, most exciting, most romantic, truest, most daring, charming, witty and altogether moving experiences anyone can have. And you don't have to slog through pages and chapters to find the truth and beauty. It's right there from the first, famous sentence: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
This new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is wonderful and deserves your attention even if you already have a favorite version of the book. Pevear and Volokhonsky are considered "the premiere translators of Russian literature into English of our day." Working, as I do, in the Theatre, I hope they take on some of Turgenev's plays.
Anyone who believes in the power of Art, especially Literature, must buy and read this book. I promise it can change your life. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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on September 8, 2001
This Edition, Pevear and Volokhonsky (Viking 2001), supposedly renders Tolstoy's Russian more faithfully than earlier ones, which attempted to "soften" him a bit for Western sensibilities. I actually bought this for a class, and my teacher, who reads it in the Russian, simply couldn't praise the translation enough, so if you're determined to read Anna Karenina already, you should probably get this edition.
As for the story, I found that the 800 pages just melted away. Long doesn't mean hard, after all, and I was sorry to see it end, to tell the truth.
The story revolves around seven different people in 1870s Russia. Superficially, it tells how Anna Karenina left her husband for another man, destroying her family, how Stiva Oblonsky ruined his family without leaving it, and how Konstantin Levin courted Kitty Shcherbatsky and they built a new family together.
Although it's enjoyable even on the superficial level, Anna Karenina rewards careful study, revealing intricate structure and interlocking symbolism throughout. Tolstoy thought it was his best work; critics have called it one of the best novels ever written; don't miss it.
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on November 11, 2000
Don't go through life without reading "Anna Karenina." This novel is excellent on so many levels that you can read it again and again, as I have, and still thoroughly enjoy it. Tolstoy skillfully tells two different stories simultaneously, based on the same theme: How does one find true happiness? Anna makes a choice and tries to bravely see it through, trying all the while to persuade herself that she's found happiness, but you can feel the strain build as the novel nears its climax. Levin nearly drives himself insane in his mental tug-of-war over where his place in life should be, but eventually comes full circle. In their journeys, Anna and Levin cross paths, with fascinating results. I can't stress enough that this book is a must-read. Be prepared to be thoughtful, depressed, elated and emotionally drained.
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"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That line opens and sets the tone of "Anna Karenina," a tangled and tragic tale of nineteenth century Russia. Tolstoy's story of lovers and family is interlaced with razor-sharp social commentary and odd moments that are almost transcendent. In other words, this is a masterpiece.

When Stepan Oblonsky has an affair with the governess, his wife says that she's leaving him, and now the family is about to disintegrate. Stepan's sister Anna arrives to smooth over their marital problems, and consoles his wife Dolly until she agrees to stay. But on the train there, she met the outspoken Countess Vronsky, and the countess's dashing son, who is semi-engaged to Dolly's sister Kitty.

Anna and Vronsky start to fall in love -- despite the fact that Anna has been married for ten years, to a wealthy husband she doesn't care about, and has a young son. Even so, Anna rejects her loveless marriage and becomes the center of scandal and public hypocrisy, and even becomes pregnany by Vronsky. As she prepares to jump ship and get a divorce, Anna becomes a victim of her own passions...

That isn't the entire story, actually -- Tolstoy weaves in other plots, about disintegrating families, new marriages, and the melancholy Levin's constant search for God, truth, and goodness. Despite the grim storyline about adultery, and the social commentary, there's an almost transcendent quality to some of Tolstoy's writing. It's the most optimistic tragic book I've ever read.

For some reason, Tolstoy called this his "first novel," even though he had already written some before that. Perhaps it's because "Anna Karenina" tackles so many questions and themes, and does so without ever dropping the ball. No wonder it's so long and imposing -- Tolstoy covered a lot of ground in here.

And while "Anna Karenina" was not the first book he wrote, it is probably the deepest and most moving. Tolstoy steeps the book in social commentary, and his personal philosophies. It's also one of those books that takes a very long time to move itself forward -- Tolstoy's writing is slow and ponderous, with a lot of serious discussion about religion and relationships. But his intense, slightly rough writing is worth it.

In some tragic books, you get the feeling that the author really despises his characters, and doesn't really care what happens to them. Tolstoy never gives you that feeling -- no matter how annoying his characters are, they always have something interesting or endearing. No caricatures at all -- even Anna's irritating, arrogant brother is given some quirks to make him seem real.

Oddly enough, the most moving character here is not Anna, but Konstantin Levin -- the tortured, passionate landowner is so earnest that it's difficult not to care about him. Apparently he was Tolstoy's alter ego, which explains his depth. But Anna and Vronsky are strong leads, a passionate pair who are both selfish and seductive, but never boring.

A beautiful look at living right vs. living wrong, "Anna Karenina" is a truly magnificent book. This book is undoubtedly Tolstoy's opus, and a stunning look at human nature.
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on June 5, 2004
One of the greatest novels of all time. Once you read it straight through and experience its immensity and depth, you can keep it around and dip into it when you need to be reminded that a work of art -- novel, play, film, what have you -- can give you not only continued enjoyment but profound truths. Tolstoy is one of the few writers I've ever read -- indeed possibly the only writer I've ever read -- who really treats men and women equally. Now in later life he wrote many provocative things about gender, but at the time he wrote Anna Karenina, he saw the soul inside a human with unlimited generosity. Note his loving attention to the emotions and suffering of the young adolescent Kitty Scherbatsky who becomes in fact a heroine of the work, and how he takes her every bit as seriously as he takes any male character in the book. If you go on to War and Peace, you'll find the same inquiry into the depths of the soul in total resregard of masculine/feminine identity. It has been said that Tolstoy raised the novel to the level of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. I believe that he did. I believe he did because, being Russian, receiving the novel as something of an imported form from England and/or France, he did not have any prejudice towards it as some sort of "domestic" or "popular" form. In other words, no one told him the novel couldn't be great. And he made it great. Read this book, even if you have to carry it around with you for a while. I recommend the old translation by Constance Garnett, but there are other ones.
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This is world-class literature and a story, albeit an older one, which teaches us much about life. I would HIGHLY recommend this book as a gift to any young adult. Yes, it is lengthy but here Tolstoy has yielded us one of the finest tales ever written.

Anna Karenina is pure female Homo sapiens. She is both good and bad (it's not really a spoiler to note that she falls prey to drugs -- morphine), but most of all, human. When I first began reading this terrific story I anticipated that I would eventually be disappointed by having guessed at what was about to happen -- I BELIEVED that Tolstoy was going to tell me about a sweet girl whom was about to have bad things happen to her and, thus, the great author was going to barter for my sympathies for her. Well no such thing! Instead, Anna Karenina could well be living in the 21st Century given her impulsive proclivities and leading a lifestyle which attends little on injurious consequences, (which we seem to see a lot of these days!). Sometimes I admired her and sometimes I wanted to strangle her, but as I read on I could not see where Tolstoy was really heading with her until the very end.

THE STORY: Anna Karenina falls in love with a dashing, handsome, young Russian military officer -- the problem is that she's married to a stogy (rich and influential) old nobleman and the two have a young son. This old curmudgeon (sometimes a wimpy fool and sometimes an aggressive scoundrel) clings to very religious and moralistic ethics and as Anna's affair evolves, the old man is launched into a distasteful and unpleasant roller coaster ride of emotion.

There are a number of great sub-plots but the chief one concerns a young landowner, the reformist Levin, who is passionate about two things: 1. changing the archaic Russian agricultural system (a very important issue in that period of Russian culture!), and, 2. marrying an early sweetheart. The difficulty with his second agenda is that this gal is in love with Anna's young lover, and not with Levin!

Maybe some folks will get to like Levin as they read on but by the end of the book I really despised him -- other readers might see Levin in a more positive light which is much of the beauty of this book. This work can inspire varying character alliances (as well as the reverse) for readers, the latter of whom have all experienced a diversity of real-life episodes (either directly or vicariously) which they will no doubt relate and append to the happenings within this fascinating book. Tolstoy's ability to create a mental symbiosis between particular characters in his stories and his readers was astounding.

One of the principal characters (I won't name him) will ultimately surprise the reader with both his perseverance as well as with his positive morality. Religion, and perhaps some hipocrisy, is a large feature of "Anna Karenina" and it is rendered in a fashion which clearly manifests some present-day circumstances and applications.

But, most of all, beyond the moral lessons, "Anna Karenina" is just a great and readable story. It's a lot like reading A Mummer's Tale (Anatole France) or "The Great Gatsby" (F. Scott Fitzgerald) -- the moral lessons are present but do not in any way interfere with the story's development.

It's difficult to say enough good about this book. Larissa Volokhonsky is a wonderful and competent translator. She and her husband, Richard Pevear, only recently published their terrific translation of Tolstoy's "War and Peace," the Mother of all Russian literature. As to "Anna Karenina," buy it and read it -- you will savor it. It's a poster example of classic Russian literature at its best.
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on April 3, 2002
When most people think of Tolstoy, they no doubt think of "Anna Karenina." So do I, and even though "Anna Karenina" isn't my favorite Tolstoy book (I preferred the exquisite and perfect novella, "The Death of Ivan Illych" instead), I will admit that "Anna Karenina" is definitely Tolstoy's most psychologically revealing and most complex work.
Set against the Russia of the 1870s, this book, like so many great Russian novels, could almost be read as a history lesson as well as a novel. There are passages on war, passages on peace and passages on the meaning of the "true Russian soul." And, perhaps in this book more than in any other ("Resuurection" may be the one exception), does Tolstoy share his own feelings with his readers by incorporating them into the feelings of his characters. The character of Levin, more than any other, mirrors the character of Tolstoy, himself. By the book's end, Levin, like Tolstoy, is a man who lives for God. And, for Levin, as for Tolstoy, this discovery of God, and the evocation of the spiritual side of his nature over the rational and intellectual side, gives a new serenity to life.
At its heart, of course, "Anna Karenina" is a novel of love and especially, of the love that exists within families. It is about love that works (Levin and Kitty) and it is also about love that fails to work (Vronsky and Anna).
Whether conventional (Levin and Kitty) or unconventional (Vronsky and Anna), functional or dysfunctional, Tolstoy's families are families in flux. The characters change and the relationships involved must change their dynamics as well if they are to survive. Love, something that is never easy, is severely tested and tried in "Anna Karenina." Some loves pass the tests, others do not.
I have often thought that Tolstoy would have made a great film director as well as a great novelist. He excels at subtle gestures: a squeeze of the hand, a glance of the eye, a failure to turn around and face one's accuser. These details and so many more are brilliantly portrayed in "Anna Karenina" and form much of the book's greatness.
This is a book with everything: riches, poverty, sickness, death, weddings, urban society and the peace of the country, togetherness and separation, joy and loss, love, betrayal and forgiveness.
This translation by husband and wife team, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is, in my opinion, far superior to the "old" translations of Louise and Aylmer Maude or Constance Garnett. The Maudes, to be sure, were friends and devotees of Tolstoy, but their Victorian prose can often sound "stilted" and forced. True, the Maudes present a more literal translation than do Pevear and Volokhonsky and they remain true to Russian grammar and sentence construction. Pevear and Volokhonsky have sacrificed the Russian grammar of Tolstoy in favor of English grammar and clarity of thought. I think, in this case, at least, it was a wonderful choice.
They have also chosen to keep the Russian names of the characters, rather than Anglicizing them, something else I very much prefer. In this translation, "Matvei" remains "Matvei." In older translations, he became, maddeningly, "Matthew." In today's cosmopolitan world, I think most of us, and certainly those who are going to choose to read a book as sophisticated as "Anna Karenina" are familiar enough with Russian names to stick to the original. Substituting the English equivalent simply sounds silly.
The notes that accompany this translation are far, far superior to the notes in the older translations, but here I do have a complaint. Why on earth did the publisher choose to put them at the end of the book rather than as footnotes? I found myself flipping to the back of the book time and again, when it would have been so much more convenient and helpful to simply look at the bottom of the page. The publisher did choose to place the translations of the French and German phrases at the bottom of the page, so why not the explanatory notes as well?
Overall, however, I love this translation and find it far superior to any other I have read. "Anna Karenina" is a complex novel encompassing all the mysteries of relationships. One requires enough concentration just reading the book without stumbling through an awkward translation as well. "Anna Karenina" is a wonderful book; this new translation has made it far more accessible and enjoyable. I hope it will be enjoyed by many more readers in the years to come.
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