Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I expected to. There are a few reasons that might explain this. It might have been a particularly bad translation–it was a free version on my Kindle. I felt I missed almost all of the cultural references, for example, why a particular style of dress or furnishings were in good or poor taste. The characters felt childish and capricious to me, their motivations opaque and obscure. Of course, my not liking Anna Karenina should be attributed to my failings as a reader rather than Tolstoy’s as a writer. If I’d read it in a class or in an edition with copious footnotes, I probably would have enjoyed it more.
My favorite parts of the book were the scenes of miscommunication. I related strongly to Anna when she was interpreting Vronsky’s actions in the worst ways, setting up mental tests for him, like “If he doesn’t do X by this deadline, then I’ll know he doesn’t love me.” That uncertainty and anxiety were feelings I know well, and I understand the urge to try to control events through pointless, counterproductive predictions and manipulations. So often, I wanted to yell at Anna and the others to just talk to each other, but I also could see why they found it hard to do so. These were the scenes where the characters came to life for me.
This novel made me wish I knew more about the politics of this era of Russian and European history, especially about agrarianism and Marxism. Without knowing more about the context, it was hard for me to judge Levin’s intellectual pretensions and Oblonsky’s and Karenin’s political careers. The urge to learn more is not a bad thing to take away from a book.