Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

A group of us at the bookstore (employees and customers) decided that we'd always wanted to read "Anna Karenina" but never quite got up the motivation to do so, and that scheduling a book club to discuss it would provide the proper instigation. Having finished this tome of 19th Century Russian literature, I'm still a little unsure of what to say about it. I enjoyed it, but without having read much else that was contemporary, I can't tell what is distinctly Tolstoy and what is merely cultural. As a history major, I definitely liked peeking into a society and time so very different from my own: Russian society is a fascinating subject, and the length of the novel allows one to become almost familiar with it.

At several junctures, I pondered why Tolstoy chose to call it "Anna Karenina," since the eponymous character is really only one of several main characters. Towards the end of the book, I realized that it's because her actions produce a profound effect on each of the other main characters' lives. Also, I'm pretty sure she is bipolar, or manic-depressive, or suffers from some such kind of mental illness. Anna is capricious and even cruel at times, violently self-centered and needy. As the book goes on, reading her sections becomes rather more painful, whereas the sections focusing on Kitty, Levin, or Oblonsky are far more pleasing. I suppose this is the point.

I'm interested to hear what the others have to say about it, though I think "War and Peace" would have provided us more fodder for discussion. I've heard many people list it as one of the best, if not the all-time best, novels ever written, so that will definitely have to be tackled at some point.


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