Friday, August 1, 2008

Recent Read: "Anna Karenina," by Leo Tolstoy

This was the first Russian novel I've ever read all the way through. This novel is an intriguing commentary on family life in aristocratic society. Although the fact that the main plot is about adultery, Tolstoy shows how lack of family values only makes people miserable. I was impressed with how effectively Tolstoy can juggle a large set of main characters, all of whose lives kept my interest throughout the very long book.

One of the gems of the piece is its overall pattern. Even though she is the namesake of the novel, we don't meet Anna until several chapters in. This device allows Tolstoy to increase our suspense as he fully sets up the stage before her appearance. Symmetrically, at the end of the novel, Anna departs the novel several chapters before the end. Likewise, the book commences with Oblonsky, the easy-living, yet loving, adulterous husband and father in the book. His actions have completely uprooted his household and made his family, especially his wife, utterly unhappy. Tolstoy ends the book with a foil of the opening circumstance. Levin, our hero-lover throughout the novel and the most decent man in the book, finally gains a testimony of God and Christianity. Although his life, and his actions, are not absolutely perfect, his honesty in word, thought, and deed make he and his family extremely happy.

I'm not sure Anna Karenina will ever be my favorite book, but I must hail Tolstoy's work as a masterpiece of literature. His writing is extremely detailed and his descriptions of people are very realistic. His commentary on family life, while saddening at times, is certainly thought-provoking.

No comments: