Thursday, September 04, 2008

On Anna Karenina

I finally finished Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I feel like I've been reading it forever.

It was an excellent book. It seems to me that Tolstoy was a master psychologist. He seems to "get inside" his characters and gives you an eerie feeling of looking through their eyes. He also seemed to have a very delicate soul and presented some very subtle shades of complicated situations.

The story follows the life of an adulteress in nineteenth century Russia. She leaves her husband for a younger man with whom she has fallen in love. She is cast out of polite society. Many feel compassion with her intellectually, but find themselves strangely uncomfortable with her life when placed in close contact with her.

At one point a character goes to visit Anna and her lover, Vronsky, at their country home. Vronsky is quite rich, and they are living in grand style. At first, Anna and Vronsky seem "unspeakably happy". But in time, the visitor senses a deep sadness. She says she feels as if everyone in the house is playing a part, but that everyone else is upset with her because she can't help playing her part badly.

I feel like that all the time.

The book is also a statement of changed times. A woman leaving her husband for a lover is not so strange in society now.

Another prominent character, Levin, is slowly moving towards God and arrives at something like faith towards the end of the book. Levin seems very much like Tolstoy himself. Tolstoy's faith journey was long and strange, and I can't help think of this character is autobiographical. It is a thoughtful and subtle picture of one who is struggling with eternal questions, using the language of his day.

It may take you a while, but I believe Anna Karenina is worth it.

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