Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thoughts: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Part One)

Anna Karenina is a married woman who travels to Moscow to help her brother and sister-in-law reconcile. After (or during?) a brutal train accident, she meets and semi-sort-of falls in love at first sight with the handsome but a tad shallow Vronsky. The charming Vronsky is currently courting-but-not-really Kitty. Levin, a strange but intelligent man, is truly in love with Kitty. She, on the other hand, rejects him for Vronsky, who soon ditches her for Anna. Still with me? Yeah, that’s how Tolstoy rolls.

Tolstoy isn’t actually that hard to read, which surprised me. There were some pretty heavy passages about philosophy that had me scratching my head, but, with the help of footnotes, I think I understood everything. His eye for little society details reminded me of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, but his characters are so much more direct. They declare their love and get on trains to chase after their lovers. They don’t depend on fate or pack meaning into a single glance. Maybe this directness is a Russian trait or maybe it’s just Tolstoy.

There are also passages where Tolstoy’s acerbic sense of humor reminds me of Jane Austen. In one scene, a character is appalled to hear that Vronsky is going directly to French theatre after listening to Christina Nilsson, one of the most celebrated opera singers of the time, but this same character wouldn’t be able to distinguish Nilsson’s voice from that of a chorus girl’s.

The train accident when and Anna and Vronsky first meet? It’s like a gigantic neon sign saying ‘THIS ISN’T GOING TO END WELL.’ Then again, it’s part of human nature to stick around after horrible accidents, taking in the carnage and thanking our lucky stars it’s not us. I do fear for my heart when it comes to this book, because I do like the characters. Previous experience, though, is warning me not to get too attached. (Does Madame Bovary ring a bell? Or The Awakening? Or Ethan Frome?)

Can’t wait to get started on Part Two.

10 comments:

mooderino said...

Those Russians weren't very fond of happy endings were they?

Looking forward to your take on part 2.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

Trish said...

I'm looking forward to getting to this one. I know it's going to be heavy, so I have be in the right mood.

As the Crowe Flies and Reads said...

Funnily enough, it's *you* who might make me pick up Tolstoy to read. I've been intimidated by the Russians since birth, and picking up Nabokov a couple of months ago did nothing to make me want to read more. but you, my friend, do.

Trisha said...

I may finally have to read this one. My two experiences with Russian lit have suggested I would actually like it, and I certainly like Ethan Frome...

Laura said...

I found that Tolstoy was a lot easier to read than I thought it would be too! Love the obvious sense of foreboding with the train accident- I definitely felt that when I was reading it too, but then I did kind of know a bit of the ending. So glad you like it!

ps I LOVE LEVIN!

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I LOVE Anna Karenina and completely agree that Tolstoy is easier to read than you would think. All the relationship drama makes it like watching a soap on TV.

And like Laura, I loved Levin.

Violet said...

Anna Karenina is one of my favourite novels. So glad you're enjoying it!

Zibilee said...

I have wanted to read this book for ages, but then the ending was spoiled for me. Do you think it's worth it to still go ahead with it, knowing that the ending isn't going to have the same impact that it would for someone who has no idea that it is coming?

Jillian said...

I'm loving this novel so far. I should hit the two-thirds mark at the start of next week. I prefer it to War & Peace, so far. :-)

Rachel said...

I had to re-read that first part to make sure I had it straight in my head! Phew I now get why people recommend having a character list to read the book. I hope to tackle this next year and it's nice to see you making your way through it without too many issues.

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