There is a poetry to Tolstoy's prose that makes this author a joy to read in any language. But what are the rhythms, sounds and textures of Tolstoy's Russian, and how can they help you to read and appreciate his masterpiece?
Listen to a Full Passage
Like the lilt and texture of character names pronounced in Russian? Get a bit more of the flavor of Tolstoy's original text with a reading of one of Anna Karenina's most famous passages. Listen in.
The short passage you are going to hear in the original Russian is from Part I, Chapter 29, when Anna leaves Moscow on the train in a blizzard. We will begin on page 101 with the words, "She felt her nerves tighten more and more, like strings on winding pegs." And we will end with the words, "But then everything became confused again." As you're listening, notice the rhythmic pattern of Tolstoy's prose, sometimes short and choppy, other times long and drawn out. Also notice his frequent use of the "zh" "sh" "s" and "z" sounds. These are examples of how Tolstoy creatively used his native Russian to do more than just tell a great story. He actually recreates the stormy atmosphere that is surrounding Anna and also beginning to take place inside of her soul.

Text of the Passage
[Anna] felt her nerves tighten more and more, like strings on winding pegs. She felt her eyes open wider and wider, her fingers and toes move nervously; something inside her stopped her breath, and all images and sounds in that wavering semi-darkness impressed themselves on her with extraordinary vividness. She kept having moments of doubt whether the carriage was moving forwards or backwards, or standing still. Was that Annushka beside her, or some stranger? 'What is that on the armrest-a fur coat or some animal? And what am I? Myself or someone else?' It was frightening to surrender herself to this oblivion. But something was drawing her in, and she was able, at will, to surrender to it or hold back from it. She stood up in order to come to her senses, threw the rug aside, and removed the pelerine from her warm dress. For a moment she recovered and realized that the skinny muzhik coming in, wearing a long nankeen coat with a missing button, was the stoker, that he was looking at the thermometer, that wind and snow had burst in with him through the doorway; but then everything became confused again...

Excerpt read by Andrew Kaufman


Next Story