Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

I have to admit, despite all the raving reviews and the fact that this is dubbed “the greatest novel ever written” by many, I was not expecting to love this as much as I did. Maybe that’s because the synopsis was underwhelming, hinting that this book is about family life and marriage, which I guess I don’t consider the most interesting topics in the world. However, coming up with a synopsis that really does all its contents justice is a near-impossible task when a novel is as lengthy as this one. So in that vein, yes, Anna Karenina is a book about family life and marriage, but it’s also so much more that that.

“You look at me,” she said, “and think, can she be happy in her situation? Well, and what? It’s embarrassing to admit, but I… I’m unforgivably happy. Something magical has happened to me, like a dream.”

Anna Karenina contains some of the most intricate character studies I have ever read. At the beginning of this novel, I was skeptical and indifferent about many of the characters. But as I progressed from chapter to chapter, each and every one of them grew more familiar to me, I became more intimately involved in their inner worlds and complex personalities. Their worries and concerns became my own, their joys made me happy, their sadness and strife broke my heart. Even side-characters that only appeared once or twice, like the artist that Vronsky and Anna visited abroad, are given distinct and memorable personalities. Anna and Levin have to be two of my favourite characters ever. Reading their contrasting stories side by side created a powerful experience in appreciating what a complete and clever portrayal of 19th century Russian society this novel is. I was especially stunned by the way the author described Anna’s fall from grace, and the last few chapters about her are just so well-written and profound that I had to go back and read them several times over.

Because of how attached I became to the characters, even the boring parts of this novel became bearable. Yes, the lengthy chapters about farming were a struggle to get through, but I didn’t mind because I love Levin and wanted him to be happy. There were some points, as is inevitable in books this long, where it felt like nothing at all was happening, but even these are enjoyable because as the action lapses, we get to really delve into the thought processes churning through characters’ minds.

Overall, reading this was such a great experience. I love how immersive the story was, how as a reader I wasn’t meant to take any sides or play favourites with characters, because each and every one of them was so gorgeously flawed in their own way. I am still so blown away by how much I loved following their lives the way I got to with this novel – it was absolutely incredible

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