March 23, 2010

Anna Karenina: A Review

I think Anna Karenina might be the best book ever written.  It makes my top 3 without question. Speaking of lists, there is a reason Tolstoy and Shakespeare duke it out for the title of greatest writer of all time. There is a reason Tolstoy has not one, but two novels in any serious top ten greatest novels of all time list. Generally, when I review something I try to give some opinions and let the reader decide for him/herself if he or she thinks she would enjoy this book. This time, however, I can proclaim with confidence that this is a book that everyone in the world should read at least once. No writer, in particular, should pass on this gem. The timing and pacing is the best I've ever seen in a novel. Characters and their various arcs coincide at the perfect times in ways you wouldn't expect. There were times where I nearly had an anxiety attack because two characters that I could never imagine talking to each other were put together into the same room with amazing results. I can't even imagine the amount of work and thought Tolstoy must have put into this masterwork (he did rewrite it nine times if that's any indication).

Debates on philosophy, atheism, religion, science, progress, politics and social standing that were raging in Russia at the time were threaded into the story with the subtlety of a great craftsman. There were so many "Aha!" moments that randomly popped up and then fluttered away in a couple paragraphs. Unlike Dostoevsky, who expounded on his philosophies deliberately and with detail Tolstoy never forces an argument down your throat. This book, at it's heart, is about the characters and only about the characters. You just feel a bit smarter and ask a few more questions about life as you go along reading. 

I know you're thinking "sure Christopher, that sounds all well and good but when I read, I read for pleasure. Anna Karenina is 800 pages long and it's so old, it sounds like it'd be terribly dry and hard to follow." I was as skeptical as you! I'm not trying to trick you because I think it'll make the world a better place. I read War and Peace (which I loved in different ways) last summer and it took me 3 months. I finished Anna Karenina in 3 weeks. I couldn't put the thing down. Tolstoy creates memorable, complicated characters that face, in many ways, the same problems we still face today. The language is simple, straightforward and easy to read.

Give it an honest shot, if you don't enjoy it I'll write a blog dedicated to you and you're awesomeness and of me and my lameness.


  1. I kind of want to read it now but I am also tempted by the idea of a blog dedicated to my awesomeness...decisions, decisions.

  2. War and Peace and Anna Karenina are on my TBR list for summer. I can just see myself diving into one of the hearty books while basking in the sun. Thanks for the review!

  3. I needed a good reason to justify going to the used book store yet again today!!
    I'm not intimidated by large books. It has to be bad... really, really bad in order for me not to finish a book. I am very curious by nature. :P

    thank you.. :D

  4. 'Give it an honest shot, if you don't enjoy it I'll write a blog dedicated to you and you're awesomeness and of me and my lameness.'

    That sentence alone seems tempting ... very tempting. Hmm ... thinking.

    Perhaps if you don't make it as a writer, then you can become a politician or a teacher because you are a very persuasive man.

  5. Done and done. It will be read by me in the next.... year. Great review, intriguing and honest. Thanks.

  6. Wow what a convincing review ~ you're putting yourself out on the line for this book, I like it. :) (and seriously, the book doesn't sound half bad either! Ok, in fact it sounds pretty great. I'll make a note to start reading as soon as I finish Lust for Life)

  7. Honestly, I never would have picked up this book. Mostly for the reasons you mentioned above as to why you were also hesitant. But you write one convincing review :) I'm glad you liked it.

  8. I also just finished this book and agree that it was absolutely phenomenal.

  9. darlin' this is where you and i differ. get to writing about my super awesomeness.

    i was always intimidated by it but then (don't laugh), it was on oprah's book club so i thought, okay if they can do it, i can do it. it took me 2 weeks to go about 50 pages, i just was not drawn into it at all. when i don't care about the characters or what happen to them, i don't see much use in continuing, so, like with (gasp!) Kerouac, I finally just said hell with it and shut the book and sold it back to Powell's. sorry dude ;(

  10. i am ashamed to say i've never read it ... but maybe i will now.

    XXX, Kim

  11. The Girl: Well you don't get a blog dedicated to you're awesomeness unless you make a serious attempt at reading it first. If you get a good start on it, get a grasp on the characters and still don't like it then you get an awesomeness blog.

    Chasing: I would definitely start off with Anna Karenina. War and Peace is also brilliant but it's not as easy a read.

    Andie: I'm always glad to provide excuses to pop into used bookstores.

    Sharon: Ha! Well see that's the funny thing. I'm not trying to make it as a writer but I am a political science major and I'm sort of in the political arena.

    Holly: That makes me so happy! Let me know when you start.

    City Girl: You can completely bash me as much as you want if you don't enjoy it! I'm completely confident.

    Eva: I think you'd enjoy it! It deals with such a roller coaster of emotions, kind of like your writing. I won't put a gun to your head or anything and say read it but that's mostly because your Russian roulette blog scared me.

    Pseudonym: Yes! Wasn't it great? Glad I'm not alone.

    Eco: You didn't give the book a chance! You don't even meet either of the main characters in the first 50 pages! You have to meet Anna and Levin first. You just didn't give it a chance! You can't even compare it to Kerouac. There is no arc in Kerouac, it's apples and oranges. You should seriously try again.

    Kim: That would be super.

  12. You're scared of me? No. I take that back, maybe you should be just a little ;)

  13. ahh, now adding conditions eh? lame dude!

  14. You are speaking to the converted here sonny jim, those Rooskies especially Mr Tolstoy, could pump out novels of infinitely brilliant calibre.
    My ultimate fight would be a caged match between T and Dostoevsky. Or maybe for the more squeamish, adverbs at ten paces.
    Yes AK is a cracker of a read. I found a copy at home as a teenager and plowed through it like a hot knife through warm butter.


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