Book Review: Anna Karenina (for Real This Time)




I have done it.

Anna Karenina, having been read once, now sits on my shelf–big, fat, and inanimate, never to be read again.

I don’t know. Maybe years from now, when I’m older and wiser and more patient, I’ll pick it up again and immerse myself in 754 pages of Russian politics and bad decisions.

But for now, I’m done with it.

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the ACTUAL Anna Karenina book review.

The Book

This book. What to say?

It isn’t actually as horrible as I’ve made it out to be. The plot itself is interesting, and the characters have depth. Honestly, the first several chapters are quality–there may be bits of dry stuff here and there, but in general, they move pretty fast, and there’s plenty to entertain.

In the beginning, you’re just getting to know the characters. They all have their own personalities, struggles, and talents–they all have their own stories woven into the story of the whole book.

There’s strife, and there’s joy. Fights are fought and soothed over. Love is offered and rejected. New love is kindled.

Then, suddenly, instead of good and bad intermingled, everything starts to just be bad. Betrayals, denials, lies, depression, crushed hopes–

And then, for the rest of the book, everything is just bad.

Pretty much everything.

Except for Levin and Kitty. They have their bright spots, but that’s it.

Anna Karenina

The characters in this book have a plethora of problems. Almost all of them begin with this character.

Anna Karenina–a rich, beautiful, respected woman who lives in St. Petersburg and runs in the most important and fashionable circles of society in Russia.

Said rich, beautiful, respected woman is married to a rich, less beautiful, respected man and has a beloved, beautiful, healthy son.

Then she goes to Moscow, steals another girl’s man, carries on an affair in private for a while, leaves her husband and child, carries on the affair in public for a while, has an illegitimate child that she doesn’t love, turns into a tragic monster of desperation and jealousy, and is miserable for the last 300 pages of the book.

She is what you might call a “fixer-upper.”

Alexey Alexandrovitch

This is Anna Karenina’s poor jilted husband. In all honesty, though, he has problems of his own. In all honesty, all the characters of this book have problems of their own.

Alexey Alexandrovitch’s problems are primarily this: he isn’t very handsome, and he isn’t very caring. Because of his first problem, his wife (and the mother of his child) admits that she’s having an affair. Because of his second problem, his reaction is that he expects her to go on acting like they’re a happy married couple (for the sake of reputation), and then he leaves to go think things over. He dwells for a while on the fact that she’s a fallen woman and that it’s probably better that everything is out in the open, then comes this gem:

“The only thing that interested him now was the question of in what way he could best, with most propriety and comfort for himself, and thus with most justice, extricate himself from the mud with which she had spattered him in her fall, and then proceed along his path of active, honorable, and useful existence.”

Quite possibly my favorite line in the book.

Alexey Vronsky

This is the rake who ruins his life by having an affair with Anna.

Let me rephrase that: by having a long and committed affair with Anna.

Apparently, in nineteenth-century Russia, it was completely respectable for a single man to have an affair with a married woman as long as it didn’t last too long and he promptly left her in the dust.

Vronsky, however, has too lengthy an affair with Anna, resulting in her leaving her family and moving all over Europe with him.

Result: Anna is completely ostrasized by society, and Vronsky loses his respectability.

That isn’t really what ruins his life, though. What ruins his life is that he starts getting bored, and she starts getting jealous, and it’s all fighting and strife and angst from there on out.

Not fun to read.

Kitty Shtcherbatskaya

Kitty is the girl who is wronged by Anna Karenina but ends up with the happily ever after anyway.

At the beginning of the book, she’s in love with Vronsky. Under the illusion that Vronsky is going to marry her, she rejects another man. Vronsky, however, has no intention of marrying her. He just wants to flirt.

Then, at a ball, while Kitty stands by looking beautiful and destraught, he dances the whole night with Anna Karenina.

Then he never looks at Kitty again, and she travels abroad to be depressed in a different country.

It’s alright, though, because she ends up marrying the guy she rejected for Vronsky.

Konstantin Levin

Enter the hopeless romantic whom Kitty rejected for Vronsky.

Levin serves as a contrast to Anna and is the reason for pretty much every boring part of the book.

He pursues Kitty, is thwarted by Vronsky, then wins Kitty over once Vronsky’s safely out of the picture. Then they get married, and it’s very happy.

Then a random nobody starts flirting with Kitty, and Levin becomes a green-eyed monster.

Kitty assures him that there’s no one in the world she loves as much as him, and it’s all happy again.

Then Levin becomes infatuated with (stifle your gasps, everyone)  Anna Karenina, and Kitty becomes a green-eyed monster.

But that gets smoothed over, too, and everything’s fine.

However, this is all interspersed with Levin’s farming (of which he does a lot, and all of it is described in the book) and Levin’s reflections and conversations about politics (which he has a lot of, and all of them are described in the book) and Levin’s deep thoughts about his feelings and desires (which he has a lot of, and all of them are described in the book).

This is why Levin is the boring part of the story.

Page after page after page of mowing fields and talking about politics.

Stepan Arkadyevitch

This is Anna’s brother, and he’s just the worst. I never could decide whether he was malicious or just stupid.

I’m leaning toward just stupid.

The book opens with strife in his house, due to the fact that he’s committed adultery and his wife is kind of upset about it. But, as he reflects, his wife can’t become young and beautiful again, so what’s he supposed to do?

He feels very sorry for himself.

So that’s Anna Karenina for you. There are plenty of other characters and plot points I could have shared with you, but you’ll just have to go read it yourself.

Or don’t. It’s up to you. It just depends on how much you want to spend five months of your life reading a book full of bad decisions and angst.

But if you do read it, you have this in your favor–

You’ll get to say you’ve read it.

And that’s all, my friends.

That is all.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Anna Karenina (for Real This Time)

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