on July 14, 2004
This will not, perhaps, be very helpful to you, future reader, to hear but: in my humble opinion, there is no way to *learn* to like Tolstoy. There's no process of adjustment, no method of accustoming oneself to the prose, the descriptions, the style, the themes. It's either there within you or it's not.
In other words, if you begin "Anna Karenina" and you are not immediately swept up into the story, with its many characters, family tensions, and ornate depiction of Russian society on many levels... If you are ten chapters in and going forward on pure stubbornness... Put the book down. Walk away. This is not for you.
For example: I read in an earlier review that the reader was "bored" by Levin's description of working in the fields with the peasants on his estate. Personally, I find that to be one of the most compelling passages in the entire book. I'm not right while the other reader is wrong, but I will say this: it's a matter of taste. If you are not engrossed by the complexities of this vast and entrenched society, if you do not feel sympathy for Levin, or feel drawn to Anna, or understand the attraction of Vronsky, then do not torture yourself, and move on.
If you're staying, though -- Anna remains, I believe, one of the most interesting protagonists in literature, and precisely because while the reader is almost unwillingly forced to sympathize with her feelings, it is similarly impossible to remove the stigma of blame from her, watching the wreck she makes of her life. Her transformation from the alluring and enchanting woman who so impresses young Kitty, to the sad and scorned woman that Vronsky himself no longer truly loves, in the end, is all of her own doing -- but who among us can say we would have successfully avoided all of her misjudgments?
Contrasted with Anna is Levin, though their lives are intertwined only through friends and relatives and they have no real knowledge of each other -- Levin is Anna's exact opposite. We meet him as an awkward and abrupt, solitary man, with troubled family relations and an unrequited love -- and in the end, after his long journey of self-awareness, we leave him in a place of pure contentment. We warm to Levin and take him to our hearts, perhaps because his choices are the ones we would *like* to think we would make.
If you ask the average American to name a Tolstoy novel, they will generally say "War and Peace", but I've always thought "Anne Karenina" to be the more human story, the more accessible, and perhaps the greater classic because of that. It truly is a matter of taste -- but if it's to yours, you'll have stumbled upon a literary find you'll treasure always.
on July 27, 2000
According to Tolstoy, the genesis of Anna Karenina was derived from three specific events: (1) An idea for a story Tolstoy developed in 1870 about a woman who deserts her husband for another man, based, in part, on the life of his sister, Marya; (2) a newspaper story concerning the mistress of one of Tolstoy's neighbors, who, feeling only despair at being abandoned by her lover, hurled herself under a train; and (3) a sentence from Pushkin's Tales of the Balkins ("The guests were arriving at the country house..."), that Tolstoy read by chance one day in 1873. Supposedly, this sentence from Pushkin fueled Tolstoy's imagination to such a degree that he completed a first draft of Anna Karenina in only three weeks.
A novel about the meaning of life and the role happiness does or does not play in it, Anna Karenina is the story of a married woman's adulterous affair with Count Vronsky. As foreshadowed in the book's early pages, the affair ends tragically, for both Anna and Vronsky.
The novel (which Tolstoy's contemporary, Dostoyevsky, considered "a perfect work of art"), also tells the story of Constantine Levin, a gentleman farmer whose lifelong pursuit of happiness and fulfillment culminates, not in his long-awaited marriage to Kitty Shcherbatskaya, but with the advice of a simple peasant about "living rightly, in God's way."
From a few simple, yet melodramatic events (and the depths of a dizzyingly fecund imagination), Tolstoy fashioned a beautiful, profound and enduring novel dealing with stark questions of both life and religious faith as seen through the eyes of the farmer, Levin. Also a morality play, Anna Karenina delves deeply into the damaging effects of society's ostracization, especially regarding the characters of Anna and Vronsky.
Many consider Anna Karenina Tolstoy's most personal work and, indeed, many of the novel's scenes do mirror Tolstoy's relationship with his own wife, Sonya. Levin's courtship of Kitty and his expressions of love for her, written with chalk on a table are reflective of Tolstoy's courtship of Sonya. Even more evocative of Tolstoy, himself, is the soul-wrenching scene in which Levin gives Kitty his diaries to read, exposing his very soul to the woman he has come to love so completely.
The final scenes of the novel, especially Levin's intense search for the answer to the meaning of existence are reflective of Tolstoy's own search, dramatically documented in his beautiful memoir, A Confession, and considered by many to be one of the most truthful, agonizing and soul-searching statements of authentic spirituality.
The publication of Anna Karenina coincided with the end of Tolstoy's life of material and emotional luxury. From this point on, he concentrated on a deeper and more mature quest. Although he would go on to write the beautiful novel, Resurrection, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a true existential masterpiece, Tolstoy's career reached its zenith in the character of Anna Karenina and her seemingly irrational embrace of death. Anna's husband, Karenin, is often overlooked, although he is equally compelling; a complex and emotional character who briefly embraces the doctrine of Christian forgiveness in his emotional denial over the loss of Anna.
No doubt the second most famous line of the book is Vronsky's startling realization: "It showed him (Vronsky) the eternal error men make in imagining that happiness consists in the realization of their desires."
Almost epic in scope and poignantly detailed, Anna Karenina represents the perfect balance of drama, morality and philosophical inquiry. How are we to live our lives, the novel asks, when all the illusions we hold so close to our heart have been stripped away? What are we to believe in and cling to?
With its emphasis on drama over polemic, Anna Karenina thus embodies art of the highest order. In its portrayal of man's timeless struggle to make sense out of life while coming to terms with death, both its theme and its characters remain, now and forever, timeless.
While the format on Kindle2 is not perfect, it's good enough to read easily and for those that like the text-to-speech function, you can listen to it. I can't believe I've not read this before and having it available free for the Kindle spurred me into doing just that. Tolstoy is such a great master. I read once that he worked on each paragraph until it was perfect, then moved on to the next and when he got to the end, the book was finished--no editing. Amazing. Since I don't read Russian I won't get to appreciate that and the translation isn't quite so clean, but still his prose is generally so clear and crisp, it's easy to get lost in the story and spend longer reading than you intended. I truly felt drawn into the Russian society life and could picture the scenes in my mind. I appreciated Tolstoy's ability to verbalize thoughts and emotions from a character's expression or tone of voice, a real skill. It's important to note, however, that this is not as easy reading as many modern works partly because of the more stilted writing style of the period and elaborate detail and partly because of the Russian names and ways of expressing things. Each character seemed to have half a dozen name references, formal, nicknames, etc. and being unfamiliar with the Russian culture, that presented a bit of a challenge to me at first. Still the characters are so vividly portrayed eventually I got the hang of it.
There is no table of contents, but I find that less of an issue in a fiction work that I intend to read straight through. Some paragraphs are split with a line left unfilled and the next not indented, probably a result of its conversion to ebook format, and I found some oddities I expect were typos. Although I was aware of these things, they didn't detract from my absorption in the story, which is an elaborate one detailing not only Anna's love for a handsome Russian officer and all the repercussions of that for her and those around her, but the side story of Kitty, her sister-in-law's youngest sister, who was taken with the same man at first and how her life progresses. It is an epic story in eight parts that takes countless turns as the events unfold and affect the many characters' lives.
on August 15, 2010
This is a terrible translation. I have read Tolstoy before (in book form) and reading this kindle version, I knew something wasn't quite right. Compared word for word with the penguin classic edition, the poor quality to this kindle version is obvious. The diction is very weak and unimaginative and there are many blatant grammatical errors. Its feels like the original Russian version was put through Google-translate. Some sentences' are cut in half and many idiomatic phrases have lost all meaning, often resulting in an entire passage failing to impress upon the reader its full weight within the context of the story. This edition of the book was appalling, does a great disservice to one of the best novels ever written and would be a ruinous way to begin reading Tolstoy.
on March 26, 2009
Note: I'm reviewing this particular translation for the Kindle, not the plot/content. (which is amazing...by the way)
I teach Anna Karenina in an AP English class and prefer the Maude translation used in the Norton Critical Edition. It's diction is more refined and provides a smoother, more engaging read. I was skeptical of the Kindle versions as I didn't recognize (or couldn't even find) the translators. After reading several pages of the sample version, I didn't hesitate to purchase the full text. The $.95 price tag was great...compared to the $22.75 for the Norton. I still have my trusty Norton edition and refer to it for my notes and the invaluable critical reviews and essays, but I no longer have to carry that hefty tome back and forth to read the amazing tale.
on March 10, 2001
I picked up this novel while travelling in India, and read for two days straight, the last few hours of which I was standing in a very crowded unreserved train. But it was so unbelievably good that I simply could NOT put it down. The last few hundred pages were a spiritual experience, something I would not say about any other book I've ever read. I had the feeling that I had been transformed in some mysterious way, that life was suddenly far more vast and deep than I'd thought before turning the first page. I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who have a hunger for life and the pursuit of experiencing its deepest, most spiritual aspects.
on October 7, 2011
Anna Karenina is a five star book, but do not spend your time with this free version. Instead, spend the 99 cents or whatever it is for the Maude translation. There are two main benefits. First, it is the best translation of the book and is much more "readable". Second, it has chapter markers for the kindle and includes some extra goodies like a Tolstoy biography. It makes reading and navigating the book so much better.
on August 12, 2009
I have enjoyed reading this book on my kindle this summer. Not only was I captivated by Anna Karenina and Vronsky, but also Levin and Kitty. There were two great love stories going on throughout the book. In the end, a simple life isn't such a bad thing! Leo Tolstoy is a true genious and I look forward to reading more of his works.
It's not necessary for me to repeat the high praise heaped upon ANNA KARENINA, which although slow-going in spots is nonetheless highly recommended by practically everyone, a world class read. But an argument is handy among those who would argue the merits of various translators and translations. Below are four of them with four representative passages from the opening paragraphs of this novel:
Constance Garnett (1901, with many revisions by others, many available for sale here, also for free online):
"the wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl,..."
(Introducing Prince Stephan Arkadyevich):
" -- Stiva, as he was known in the fashionable world -- "
"He turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the springy sofa,"
Louise and Aylmer Maud (1918), available here as an Oxford World Classic:
"His wife had discovered an intrigue between her husband and the former French governess,..."
" -- Stiva, as he was called by his set in Society[note cap. "S"] -- "
"He turned his plump, well-kept body over on the springy sofa,"
David Magarshack (1961), Signet(Mass Market) Paperback [and this version]:
"The wife had found out that the husband had had an affair with the French governess,..."
"(Stiva, as he was called by his society friends),"
"He turned his plump, well-cared-for body on the springy sofa,..."
Peavar/Volokhonsky, 1991 (Penguin Classic and [same pagination, fancier cover] Oprah's Pick):
"The wife had found out that the husband was having an affair with the former French governess . . . "
" -- Stiva, as he was called in society -- "
"He rolled his full, well-tended body over the springs of the sofa,..."
The first thing to say is that these four quotations have a great deal more in common with each other than not. Nonetheless, there are differences: note that only two of the four mention that the object of Stiva's affection was a former employee. Despite several layers of revision, Garnett's translation, nearly a century old, at times slips into archaism: note the reference to high society as the "fashionable world," a term for which modern readers could be excused for construing something along the lines of couture, high fashion in clothing. Both the Garnett and the Maude version maintain the euphemism "intrigue" for "love-affair," while the two more recent translations keep to the more contemporary and less euphemistic "affair." In the Magarshack translation (1961), the use of the pluperfect in "the husband had had an affair" is technically correct, even today, but the P&V version with its "was having" just rolls by better to me.
Overall, though, of the four my personal favorite is the 1961 Magarshack translation, also the cheapest (but smallest in trim size). If I had to conduct a group discussion of ANNA KARENINA, though, I would almost cetainly gravitate to the much-better-distributed Peaver/Volokshonky edition because the differences or any presumed demerits, to me, are not as significant as granting the easiest accessibility to a group of individual readers. I could probably muddle through the archaisms in the Maude version -- it is the most reworked and in many respects the most solid, despite its age -- but I know I would have problems with the Constance Garrett.
The important thing to remember is that ANNA KARENINA is a book that demands to be read, and the reader who takes the time to read it fully will be well rewarded in vivid characterization, deft plotting, romance, social insight, and history, despite how one feels about the (sometimes exasperating) agrarian-political theorizing of Tolstoy's stand-in, Levin.
on August 15, 2012
Since Amazon is terrible at associating kindle versions with the correct book, this review is for the Modern Library Kindle Edition: Anna Karenina. This is a a Garnett translation edited by Leonard Kent and Nina Berberova, not a Carmichael translation.
I have tried a lot of the Anna Karenina kindle editions. Although there is another Garnett version with annotations Anna Karenina - Full Version (Annotated) (Literary Classics Collection) is cheaper, I bought this because it is slightly better formatted for the Kindle. The difference is that the footnotes are found at the end of a chapter, as opposed to the end of the book. On a non-touch Kindle, it's clunky to navigate to a footnote, read it, and then hit back. It interrupts the reading flow.
With footnotes at the end of a chapter (and chapters being relatively small), the footnotes in the Modern Library version are relatively timely. You can get to the end of a chapter and read the footnotes and still remember what they refer to.
I also decided it was worth it to get a more official curated version of Anna Karenina; many of the cheaper versions you see are just people repacking off-the-internet the Garnett (unrevised) or Maude translations.
The Pevear & Volokhonsky version costs twice as much as this version, and the footnotes are also at the end of the book instead of the end of a chapter.