Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky.
In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.
I knew very little of the story of Anna Karenina, merely that it was a love affair in the midst of Russian Society, and I was therefore surprised that Anna Karenina was barely mentioned at the beginning of the novel. It seemed the book followed Levin’s story rather than Anna’s, though it is Anna’s story that resonates through time.
Tolstoy was able to capture and relay each character’s complex personality in short and direct, perfectly structured sentences. While initially reading the novel, it took a while for me to adjust to the unusual style of writing and longer for me to truly appreciate the hidden subtext incorporated in many of the sentences.
As the reader, I was able to physically feel Anna’s torment, her heartbreak and especially her boredom. I was struck by the fact that Anna was happy in her marriage and after her short acquaintance with Vronsky, she soon became bored and discontent with her life and friends. It is a fearful aspect that Tolstoy touched upon, how a person’s emotions can suddenly turn, and what once made you happy no longer does. This touches an even deeper question, how do you live a fulfilled and happy life?
Beginning the book was challenging but by the end of the novel I was swept away into the intricately woven personalities of the characters, feeling their every sensation. I can truly say that I now fully understand how Anna Karenina can be internationally deemed as one of the most admired, doomed love stories of all time.