First let me say, and you may have guessed if you read my reviews regularly, I listened to this book on audiotape. A bonus was it was one of my favorite voice actors, Devina Porter, that did the narration. Her skills and talent shone brightly in this book and I was very glad to have her as the narrator. It took me over a month to get through, and I have a long commute. However, I feel that it was well worth my time.
Secondly, I was blown away by this book. I had always heard that Tolstoy was dry, long-winded, and boring, however, I found the book very interesting, detailed, and in the same spirit (not topics or subjects of course) as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. I have placed it on my 100 Books to Read Before You Die list with Jane Eyre. I find it somewhat more informative than the writings by the women because it gives a full snapshot of what life was like in turn-of-the-century Russia.
The book essentially follows two couples – Anna and Vronsky, Levin and Kitty. There are numerous other important characters, but mostly it revolves around how everyone interacts with these four people. Anna is married to Alexei Karenin, but falls in love with Vronsky, causing numerous issues with her marriage. Levin is a country gentleman who has loved Kitty for years, but has never been brave enough to offer his hand. When he attempts to Vronsky stands in his way and he feels defeated. Both couples relationships grow and radiate, twist and turn, hum with love, and snag and break in different times, for different reasons, and in different ways. It is quite an emotional book for the period.
What I found extremely fascinating was the descriptions, explanations, and portrayal of turn of the century Russian society a short time after the Revolution. I had known nothing about Russia, its history or its people. I learned a lot just reading the book. Through the characters you learned about how the whole populace functioned, from the princes to the commoners, and their attitudes toward each other. Attitudes and ideas about education, women’s rights, politics, etc. were also discussed, these three topics being the most primary, along with agriculture and labor. The author gave an honest and effective portrayal of how society was both attempting and not attempting to change at the same time.
Furthermore, the book gave an exemplary account on the subtle influences of relationship. It is a great study on how insecurity, depression, stress, and social isolation effects people. Additionally, trust and pride are also shown in the different relationships. The commonplace attitude of mistresses and women’s places help to demonstrate the role of marriages and children. It was interesting to see how society and individuals were so influenced and could influence the happiness of others.
I would recommend this book to any serious reader. It is very long and you have to be determined to finish it, but it is well worth it. I would suggest audiobook as well, as I find it very enjoyable and helps to ease the dryness of some of the passages. All in all, it is a fantastic literary work.