Your Guide to Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
Reading Between the Lines
Yet Anna Karenina is a book that covers much more than one woman's misguided love affair. Tolstoy 's broad canvas is big enough to include insight into happy marriages, adultery, sexuality, country life, politics, masculinity and femininity, individuality, conformity, altruism, love, death, longing and success. On nearly every one of its more than 800 pages is a sliver of Tolstoy's philosophy of life. Again and again, these small philosophical interludes resound with meaning that is as applicable today as it was more than a century ago. In all of literature, there are few novels that cover as much territory, or have stood the test of time so well.
Blood Is Thicker Than Water
From its very first provocative line the novel sucks you in: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This is a novel about something everyone can relate to: family. The two main characters, Anna and Levin, are eventually linked through marriage—Anna is Levin's sister-in-law's sister-in-law. Through the Oblonskys, Karenins, Levins and Shcherbatskys, we come to understand the complexities of family relationships. We appreciate the ties that bind human beings together in an awareness of the fragility of life. The intricacies of love and relatedness are explored in some of the greatest depth of any novel written before or since. To understand the need for love is to understand what drives Anna Karenina—both the character and the novel.
It's Not As Foreign As You Think
Of all the Russian novels written during the 19th-century, Anna Karenina is perhaps the most taught in college literature courses. Even so, over the years it has grown in stature to nearly mythical proportions as one of the most challenging novels to read. To give Tolstoy credit, this is a complicated, rich story with many layers and much to digest. However, it is also a lot of fun. The characters are well realized and in most cases very approachable. Their experiences, from Stiva's infidelity to Levin's firstborn child, are not so far from our modern-day understanding of life and the world. Tolstoy's prose is generous, giving its reader many ways to interpret it and a lot to consider. Once you've finished Anna Karenina, you'll not only be proud of your accomplishment, but also realize how rewarding a great summer read like this can be! As Oprah says: "Don't be scared. We will do this together."
Try these discussion questions to help your reading along!