Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Simply Convivial

Anna Karenina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Library audio book.

Review written in March 2011

Tolstoy weaves together tales of three marriages with copious social, political, and moral musings. Books with copious social and political musings I prefer on audio book. The reader plows right on through, giving good inflection, and I can pick up the gist while folding laundry or washing dishes.

Of course, if I had actually read the hard copy of the book, I would have pulled out a few quotes. The description of a father during his wife’s first labor was all at once funny, moving, and accurate. The other bad thing about listening to the book is that I don’t know how to spell anyone’s names; however, I know how to say them, and that’s something.

Although the title character is Anna Karenina, her story line really is secondary in the novel. Hers is a cautionary tale, accentuating the correctness of Constantin Levin’s musings and idealism. Levin is running from God, yet feels the pursuit and the questions to which no one else in his acquaintance can relate. Levin takes more than half the book to get married, and before he does one illustrative marriage has cracked and chipped and been glued back precariously after (during) the husband’s unfaithfulness, which Levin cannot fathom. The second illustrative marriage is shattered spectacularly not only because the wife is unfaithful, but because she refuses to do so quietly and secretly, which Levin then fears within his own marriage.

Levin’s problem at heart is that he wishes to act consistently with his philosophy, and cannot find out that naturalism or materialism lead to anything other than self-seeking, which he finds aberrant. Finally, he realizes that atheism, to be consistent, must lead to suicide. Although tempted, he is brought to reject atheism instead of his life, and to recognize that finding the answer does not magically make life easy or perfect; the perfect life being what he had been seeking the entire novel.

The main female protagonist was Dolly Obloskeya, I believe. She was Anna’s foil. I would love to write a discourse on her, but I will spare you. Better to have your beauty spent and spend yourself on your children (and live without a husband’s love) than to revel in your beauty and seek a passionate love to the neglect and rejection of your children.

Tolstoy’s wrapping up with the Christianity-soaked ending still wasn’t completely satisfying, because one could tell the author’s own heart was not in it. It toyed with universalism (or at least that all religion’s gods are descriptions of the same god), and was more concerned with the Church (whether Catholic or Eastern Orthodox) than with Christ.

Still, I was expecting depression and tragedy all the way around, and was pleased with the ending. The immoral received their just reward and the moral realized that their morality came from Christianity.

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