Book Review: K is for Karenina

Billed as one of the greatest love stories in world literature, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina would serve the reader better as two separate novels. The two primary characters — Anna, the beautiful and courtly infidel, and Levin, the introspective recluse — and their supporting cast have such infrequent interaction that I spent the last two-thirds of the epic wondering with eager anticipation how the two vastly different tales would be seamlessly woven together. I was unfortunately disappointed by the distracting division.

The novel’s namesake was an easy character to become interested in, despite the fact that I could not personally relate to any of her choices or tragedies. Her self-imposed plight, an unfortunately common but accepted one today, showcased the intricate machinations of 19th-century Russian upper-class society. Karenina’s tragic end was too abrupt, leaving me wanting more — perhaps because of the juxtaposition of the apparent violence of her death and its seemingly out-of-place peacefulness.

Levin began as an equally engaging character with which Tolstoy amazingly captured the internal thoughts of the spiritual soul-searcher. However, despite the eventual internal discovery of that which made Levin feel whole and divinely sound, the entire middle third of the novel was mired in drudgery and repetition. Character growth was slow if not stagnant. By the end, I couldn’t have cared less about Levin’s revelations; I would have preferred that the outcomes of the two leads to have been switched. The most interesting aspect of Levin is that he is essentially a mirror into the soul of Tolstoy, Leo himself having gone through the same introspections at the time of the writing of this novel.

I’m glad I read the 750-page tome, but Anna Karenina will be one of the few rare books that forever collect dust on my upper shelves, unlikely to be read by me again.

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