September is the birth month of Leo Tolstoy, born on 9/9/1828. The Russian author is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. Today we pay tribute to Tolstoy by briefly going over what is considered to be his best work and what some experts claim to be one of the greatest works of fiction ever written. Anna Karenina was published in 1877 and has been a timeless classic ever since.

I have known of this title since I was in my teens, I always heard of Anna and Tolstoy, I think I even watched the movie featuring the beautiful Keira Knightley portraying Anna on TV. It wasn’t until I delved deeply into books through my blog that I realized that I was probably missing out on this classic and so I bought myself a copy. Intimidated by its size of course; I left it on the shelf for about a year. It was sometime in December 2017 that I decided what my new year’s eve read would be (I always read a book on new year’s eve). I chose Anna Karenina to start 2018 and I gave myself ten days to finish it.

The book is Oprah Winfrey’s favourite and I am in no place to doubt international book critics, but to be honest; Anna Karenina was one of the most beautiful reads I ever read. I will not review the book specifically, but I want you to know what to expect from this 800+ page long book.

The novel starts off with one of the most well-known phrases in literature, ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. This is about the families in the book, but I also think Tolstoy meant it for ‘unhappy affairs’ or ‘love stories’ as well.  They are unhappy in their own way. This was mainly about Anna, the main character whose tragedy was her love life.

Anna was a beautiful and educated woman, married to a well-respected man but was also in love with another man. Very cliché you might say. But how is this story of treason different when told by Tolstoy?

The way Tolstoy wrote the book -specifically Anna’s love affair-  makes you realise that his genius lies in the fact that he did not create villains or heroes, his characters are just simple and basic people. Their raw feelings are relevant to all of us. You start sympathising with them, you start justifying wrong doings, and loving the good deeds. The novel shows no right or wrong, smart or stupid, fair or unfair. These opinions remain subjective to the reader.

Moreover, Tolstoy’s genius prevails in keeping the reader attached to this very long book which includes multiple sub stories. The incidents and events run smooth and easy. This is emphasised in the flat storyline which is easy to read (uncommon in Russian literature). Tolstoy (who actually comes from an aristocratic family) adds a sprinkle of glam in describing the Russian countryside along with other glamorous palaces. The characters tend to be highly cultured individuals who also speak Latin and French. They are serviced by different staff members at home, eat delicious meals and know how to appreciate life’s gifts. They evolve in a setting which you can only dream of and it is thus a pleasure to follow them in their lives. This combination makes the book a very reliable reference for the folklore and the lifestyle of 19th century Russia.

There are never ending online papers and articles on this novel, some are too hard to understand, but one of them simply describes Anna Karenina as the novel that covers the three big P’s of literary greatness: Psychology, Politics, and Philosophy. I absolutely agree with this statement especially with regards to Psychology.  The feelings felt by the characters stir the plotline and the sequence of events. Love, jealousy, loneliness and guilt transmit easily to the reader.

On a happier note, it is good to know that book includes a sub story of two other important characters whose love is the opposite of what Anna and her lover shared. The simple and more honest relationship has a happy ending as opposed to Anna’s ending.

I gave this book a ten day deadline, but I actually finished it in one week. It required a lot of dedication and perseverance, so unless you have time allocated to it, please don’t read it and stop. If you return after a few days you would feel lost and confused, you would also disconnect from the emotions and drama. But if there is one beautiful thing I can relive again, it is to feel the feelings of reading this book for a first time like I did back in January 2018. I rated it 5/5 without even thinking. Go grab a copy!

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, First US Edition 1886  (ebay.com)

Original book review on booksbyhala