Book Review: Anna Karenina

Title: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Date Published: 1877
Rating: 3/5 stars
Date read: April 8, 2020

Anna Karenina is a multiple perspective story, whose main players are: 
-Anna Karenina, the beautiful wife of a high ranking minister
-Alexis Vronsky, a military officer who falls in love with Anna and is determined to have her love him back
-Catherine (Kitty) Shherbatskaya, a young woman who is courted by Vronsky until he meets Anna and leaves her broken-hearted
-Constantine Levin, arguably the main character, a landowner with a passion for farming who is in love with Kitty
-Stephen (Stiva) Oblonsky, Anna’s brother and Kitty’s brother-in-law, who is unfaithful to his wife
The novel primarily focuses on Levin’s heartbreak over Kitty’s unrequited feelings, and his desire to run a successful farm, as well as Anna and Vronsky’s forbidden romance.

Anna Karenina can be a bit of a challenge getting into in that we have a large cast of characters and they’re not introduced slowly. I first started reading Anna Karenina as an audiobook and that got really confusing really quickly as the characters are sometimes referred to by their first names, sometimes their last names, and sometimes their nicknames and it does take time to get used to it all. If you’re unfamiliar with Russian names, last names have male and female forms, and the middle names are patronymic names. The middle names are useful when it comes to figuring out who is related to whom. 

In terms of characters, I tried so, so hard to like them, but as the novel progressed this got more and more challenging. These characters are deeply flawed, extremely passionate, often give into jealousies, and act a bit dramatically on their feelings and at times that made them very difficult to like. I also thought many unredeemable. While Anna and Vronsky in particular were very passionate, I had a hard time believing in their romance and thought it verged more along the lines of obsessive and less so as romantic. Kitty and Levin’s relationship was a lot more believable, but again I had trouble connecting to it because Levin just seemed so irrational when it came to anything to do with Kitty.

One reason I love reading classics is that they give a glimpse into the time period they are written in. Anna Karenina takes place in the late 19th century (and was written in 1873) and the political turmoil is reflected through Levin’s farming struggles. I can’t say I enjoyed this aspect of the novel, or that reading about farming greatly interests me. But farming aside, I’m not sure I’m intelligent for this novel, a lot of the political talk went over my head, and it seemed like there were characters introduced just for the sake of having political arguments. I also just thought this novel was way too long. It often felt like a chore to read, especially as I got farther into the novel. 

I’d recommend this novel to anyone who has an appreciation for Russian politics and/or farming, because in terms of epic romance this ain’t it.

P.S. If you think this review is a hot mess, it’s because it reflects my feeling towards the novel.

Have you read Anna Karenina? If not, do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Happy reading! 💗