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on March 22, 2004
I have been reading Anna Karenina for quite a long time. I read it for a time, put it down to read another book, then picked it back up again to read some more. I did this over and over because I was intrigued by the story but my reading of it was very labored. Tolstoy is complex to begin with (an understatement, to be sure) but the translation I was reading made it difficult for me to wade through. When I was about half way through the book, someone directed me to this more recent translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky (my husband highly recommends their translation of The Brothers Karamozov). I picked up in this translation where I left off in the other and I could not believe the difference! This translation is incredibly fluid - while maintaining the complexity and beauty of Tolstoy's creation. Without exaggerating in the slightest, this story came alive when I switched to this translation. Now I cannot put it down and I am almost finished with the book. Get this book! It makes Tolstoy come alive to us - the everyday common reader.
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on December 24, 2002
I had finally read my 10 year old copy of Anna Karenina to death. Therefore I decided to buy a new one. I was a bit leery about trying a new translation, but this edition pleased me very much.
There are three main reasons that I recommend this book:
1. Great Story
2. Very good Translation
3. Durable Hard Cover
Great Story
In this novel Tolstoy presents marriage and human relationships in a realistic manner. Anna Karenina details a passionate love affair and it's doleful consequences. The reader experiences this tumultuous love from the point of view of the two paramours, as well as the friends and family members whom their lives touch.

Nevertheless, a tale about a cheating wife does not great literature make.
The existential struggle for meaning in life and the nature of God figures strongly as a theme in Anna Karenina. Overshadowing, in my opinion, even the experiences of the book's namesake. Any lover of philosophy will enjoy this book immensely.
The Translation
As I mentioned before, this is a good translation. By good, I mean the following:
1. Russian words are footnoted - Some words lose their meaning and cultural context when translated to English. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky did a wonderful job leaving these terms in tact. There are notes at the back of the book that fully explain each Russian word.
For example, who knew that the "roll" that Stiva eats in my previous translation was actually a "kalatch?"
2. Names of the Characters are Preserved - Princess Darya Alexandrovna Oblonsky is also known as Darya and sometimes as Dolly. The use of names and nicknames is very important in language. I appreciate that the translator preserved the use of the patronymic and various names of each character. Too bad there is not a way to translate the Russian forms of address. Sigh.
3. Foreign Language Passages are Footnoted - Many of the members of the social sphere in which the book is set spoke multiple languages. Thankfully, when Tolstoy wrote a passage in French or German, the translators let it alone and wrote a translation at the bottom of the text.
I tend to manhandle my books, so I like hardback. I think I've had this book for about a year. It's held up pretty well.
Unless you're the kind of person who uses bookmarks and doesn't fold pages, I recommend this edition instead of a softback book.
In conclusion, Pevear and Volokhonsky's work stands out as a stellar translation of one of literature's greatest masterpieces. I highly recommend this book!
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on April 14, 2002
In my sophomore year of college, I was assigned ANNA KARENINA to be read in one week. ONE WEEK! Somehow I did it and it changed my life. I came back to the Tolstoy novel in the summer between my sophomore and junior years and then again in grad school. I just finished reading it for the fourth time.
Everything you've heard and read about ANNA KARENINA is true. It is one of the finest, subtlest, most exciting, most romantic, truest, most daring, charming, witty and altogether moving experiences anyone can have. And you don't have to slog through pages and chapters to find the truth and beauty. It's right there from the first, famous sentence: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
This new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is wonderful and deserves your attention even if you already have a favorite version of the book. Pevear and Volokhonsky are considered "the premiere translators of Russian literature into English of our day." Working, as I do, in the Theatre, I hope they take on some of Turgenev's plays.
Anyone who believes in the power of Art, especially Literature, must buy and read this book. I promise it can change your life. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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on January 13, 2004
I read the novel in the original Russian so this review is not about any edition/translation.
Anna Karenina is a masterpiece of epic proportions. However, much of the interest lies in the inaccessibility of the work and the difficulty with which we come to read it. It is set in 19th century Russia, amongst characters from the upper class. As such, we are removed from them by several levels. It is the story largely focusing on an adulterous affair between Anna Karenina and Vronsky. As such, many of the actions in the book seem to go against a normal notion of morality. This is because the book is an example of realism and as such presents an "unfettered" version of events with little ideological commentary. As such I had difficulty accepting many of the words and actions of the characters.
However it is a timeless story in the way it describes the psychological and emotional makeup of the characters in such tremendous detail. Even if some characters are unsympathetic, they are portrayed masterfully. There are too many characters and subplots to describe but let's just say the book gives a great overview of the whole of the upper class Russian society of that period (both in terms of characters as well as the scope of settings and events).
Many consider this to be the finest novel ever written. I disagree - while it explores the human condition very well I felt it lacked soul at times. Maybe because I like romanticism as a literary movement better than realism. So if you expect philosophical digressions and atmospheric, almost magical descriptive passages you won't find them here. Just a whole world built up one razonr-sharp scene after another. Also, again, I found some of the characters' behaviour excruciating in its falsehood and pretense. By the end of this book, one sees "high society" in all its putridness.
A great read and an important work - but not "THE novel".
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on December 19, 2003
I'm usually reluctant to read long books originally written in a foreign language because so many translations sound stilted or else make everyone sound like an Englishman. This translation by Richard Peavar and Larissa Volokhonsky is natural sounding and evocative of the time period without being archaic. It uses standard American English without being slangy. The only British-ism I found in the whole book was when a character goes to the theatre and sits in the "stalls." (I'll bet a lot of Americans don't know that the "stalls" means the orchestra section.) But that is being really nitpicky. This translation is outstanding. I saw both of the old movies based on ANNA KARENINA (the Garbo version and the Lupe Velez version), so the book was far more interesting than I was expecting it to be. Anna herself is only one of many intricately delineated characters. Her story is only a part of it. Tolstoy is pondering bigger issues than an ill-fated love affair. He presents a whole society. His psychological insight is really remarkable. I loved the scenes in which he depicted what people were thinking and feeling toward each other while outwardly having a mundane conversation. I'm a middle-aged man. The book probably means something different to me than it would to a teenage girl, but Tolstoy has something for everyone. This is a great and powerful novel that is a classic for a good reason. This terrific translation makes it accessible to a whole new generation of Anglophones.
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on September 14, 2003
Dostoevsky's The Idiot de-emphasizes the bitter, skein, entangled love between Aglaia, Natasya and Myshkin and through which voices the author's views on suffering, virtue and moral goodness. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is the melodrama up to the same par that deftly follows the excurciating, convoluted love triangle between Alexei Karenina, Anna Karenina and Vronsky. The opening line of the book, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," succinctly bespeaks the various aspects, intricacies, and complications that contribute to the unhappiness of three related families revolving around Anna Karenina.
The story is a timeless classic. Anna arrives in town to help reconcile her brother, Stepan, with his wife Dolly. Dolly finds out about Stepan's affair with a former French governess. She seeks to revenge on his unrepentant behavior and to shame him for at least a small part of hurt he had done her. Though she manages to resolve with him, suspicions of her husband's unfaithfulness constantly torment her. While Anna appeases Dolly's crushed spirit and implored her to forgive Stepan, little does Anna know that her brief visit would irrepressibly alter her fate and throw her into a bittersweet convoluted affair with Count Vronsky.
Handsome, intelligent, and cultivated Vronsky courts Kitty, Dolly's youngest sister who rejects Levin's proposal (though she cannot deny his love). When Vronsky later scorns her for Anna Karenina, Kitty refuses any commiseration, condolence, and condescension out of her pride. Her grief is precisely that Levin has made a proposal and that she has curtly rejected him (she pities him and thinks she deserves a better match) while the whole time Vronsky has deceived her. At the first encounter Vronsky beams at the sight of Anna's svelte, dazzling beauty, talks to her as if the words would determine their fate, and immediately decides that she can never and does not love her husband Alexei. Likewise, Anna finally comes to terms with her chronic sadness, which overcomes her that she is deceiving herself about Vronsky.
Anna is thrown into a frenzied conflict of emotions: qualm, fear, sadness, indecision, guilt, broods over lack of love, the desire of love. No matter how solicitous of her needs Alexei has been, Anna shuns him and is disgusted with his wonted coldness and indifference in their marriage. In the 19th century, a woman like Anna, who had involved in such affair was considered vile, corrupted, fallen, and disgrace. Indeed Alexei is most concerned in safeguarding his reputation, which he needs for the unimpeded continuation of his social and civil activity. He seeks to mitigate the situation as elders of society are displeased by the impending scandal. He is also in denial, in total complaisance, fantasizing Anna's passion (for Vronsky) will ease and grievous difficulty will pass and that his name will remain undisgraced. An inner disturbance causes him to feel an unwillingness that Anna be united with Vronsky unhindered. He regards Anna's nature as being "so corrupt, so perverted that perdition itself looks like salvation." It is through the portrait of Alexei's mental suffering and agony that render Anna's character and her affair etched.
As Levin notices, Anna never tries to conceal or trifle all the difficulty of her situation. Such truthfulness in her makes her all the more indomitable and wins her Levin's justification. She glumly broods over not being able to see her son Seryozha (Count Lydia abets Alexei to tell the boy of his mother's death so as to end the situation) and Vronsky realizes that the boy, with all the sensitivity of feelings in a child, constitutes the most painful part (hindrance) of his relationship with Anna. The reunion of mother and son sees an outpour of tears, joy, and bittersweet tenderness that will make readers lump in the throat. Tears and sniffles might have rendered Anna speechless but the boy understands that his mother is unhappy and that she loves him.
An underlying theme that sifts through the book and indirectly joins the threads of different characters concerns the thirst, the desire, the quest and the perseverance for love. Anna perfidiously abandoned her marriage, bore the impregnable pain of parting with her son, eloped with Vronsky without a swaying in her faith of finding true love. Her doubt of Vronsky's unwholesome love for her destines her to a path of no return. Her jealousy of Vronsky's diminishing love, the longing to seeing him suffer, repent, and love her memory as if she is no more pave for her doom. The very self-destruction she brings upon herself will only wring in Vronsky a new pang of pain and regret.
Levin (my favorite character whose modesty and virtue I'm attracted to), whose wholesomeness is both a virtue and defect, experiences the pain of losing his brother Nikolai, whose life merges into one single feeling of suffering as his body writhes and grasps for breath. Levin feels the necessity to live and to love, though he dreads the lack of a Christian belief will rid of his life (provokes in him suicidal thought). Suffering in a sense refines him and empowers him to truly appreciate life and love his family. Levin represents an enlightening transformation.
Anna Karenina is magnificent in its essence. It is an intense, convoluted, and poignant portrait of an elite's decadence. The book is dramatic in Anna's outrageous affair with another married man, audacious in her fearless breaking away from shackles of social opinions; and engrossing in her enlightening of self and toward love through interactions of other characters. The writing captures the essence of suffering and emotional struggles. The characters and the lives they lead are deftly nuanced as if the novel was written yesterday. A timeless classics. 5.0 stars.
[New translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky]
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on August 20, 2003
To say that I liked Anna Karenina would be one of the most grievous understatements I have made in my young life. It wasn't just good, it wasn't likeable, it was amazing. It took me completely by surprise and swept me along in its subtle glory - this is one of the best books I've ever read. Though it is a looong book, I read it faster than I've read books half its length because I became so deeply involved in its world. People may say it is far too long, but the length of this novel is, I think, one of its great assets - the benefit of an epic book is the power it has to take its time and engross you completely, so that by the end of it, you're desperate to get to the end, but when you get there, you feel sad that there will be nothing new to read of the world you cared so much for.
The title of the book and the descriptions I alwasy read of it are misleading. I bought it because it is famous, because it is a classic, and people will tell you to read it just so you can say you've read it. I'd heard it called Tolstoy's "Tragedy of Shame," but this, if it is even an accurate description, is just half the story. The half I wasn't expecting, the part that won me over, was the story of Levin, who I began not really liking and wound up caring for as much as I've ever cared for a literary character. It is his story that really begins and ends the novel, his that brings fulfillment. Anna's fate is tragic, but without Levin's storyline to give balance, it would lose a lot of its meaning. While Anna and Vronsky ruin themselves and each other in a spectacularly bad and increasingly painful relationship, Kitty and Levin show the opposite - a relationship that is not perfect, but completely beautiful because each person cares so much for its survival that they take effort to make sure their problems are resolved.
I can't begin to do justice to the novel - it's simply wonderful. I couldn't quite tell you "what it's about," either, since what captivated me were a lot of the small details, the pacing, the silent spiritual battles that take place. What makes me love this could make another person hate it. If you like action and obvious plot points, then this isn't the book for you. It's about morals, the slow but inevitable decline of a woman who chooses to publicly live outside them, the battle to find meaning in life, the small but important elements that make relationships work, pride, life.... I can't think of a book that can compete with it in its scope and emotional power. I probably haven't cleared up anything for people who haven't read the novel, but there's no way I could do that in a review. The only way to really understand what the book is like is to read it yourself, so I recommend that everyone at least try it. You, like me, might be blown away.
I'd like to make a point that I'm specifically reviewing this translation of Anna - by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky - because this is the version I read and fell in love with, and I understand that other versions will, of course, word things differently. So, while I'm certain beyond a doubt that other versions will also be great (and some may be better, I can't know), this is the one I want to praise, this is the one that made Anna Karenina one of the best books I've ever read. Highly, highly recommended.
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on December 8, 2002
Finally someone got it right. I think even Nabokov would have approved of this translation. Pevear and Volokhonsky have done an exemplary job with one of the finest books in Russian literature. The story has a flow and a grace, which seemed lacking in Garnett's translation. So many of Tolstoy's wordplays have been faithfully reproduced. P&V provide copious endnotes to help explain many of the references. This translation is truly a pleasure to read.
Most persons are familiar with the story of Anna and Count Vronsky, but even more compelling to me is the story of Levin and Kitty. I love the opening ice skating scene in which they first meet in the novel. It takes much longer for Levin to realize his love for Kitty, than it does Anna and Vronsky, and in the end he is more fully rewarded for it. Through Levin, we see more of the Russian countryside, its enormous width and breadth. Tolstoy seemed to inhabit Levin, bringing many of his ideas forth through this dark, brooding character, who ultimately sees the light.
Tolstoy so richly details his characters, juxtaposing their relationships, and placing them within time and space with the deft hand of a master. This is arguably his greatest work. It is Tolstoy at the peak of his intellectual and creative abilities.
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on October 16, 2002
I believe I write reviews here at amazon to help me get a grasp on stories I have read. It seems almost absurd that I'd write a "review" of Anna Karenina. But I will.
On the surface, Anna Karenina is a domestic story of three very different couples' relationships. Dolly and Stiva represent the classic functioning dysfunctional upper-middle-class family. Levin and Kitty are the "new" generation of upper-middle class, and Levin's story is close to Tolstoy's own. Anna and Alexei (and later Vronsky) represent a kind of superstar family, with Anna rebelling against contemporary morality in search of her own fulfillment.
I suppose a good question to ask -- to realize -- is how can a domestic novel interest so many readers for so long. That's what is underneath the surface of this 817 page novel. Anna Karenina is a profound spiritual quest, and in the three years that Tolstoy wrote it he time-and-time again tried to perfect his own way of thinking, living, existing. The novel represents one human being's attempt to free himself from all that is negative. Vanity, pride, deceit, infidelity, etc. He struggled to perfect himself -- in the purest sense of the word. And that, is one major reason why this novel is so powerful. It represents one human being's attempts to free himself from all that is negative about being human.
Add to this a vivid imagination -- the ability to see a scene, characters, to know them and their surroundings -- and you have a profound and entertaining read. Some of the most interesting passages to me occur when Levin tries to reconcile his spiritual understanding with the practical social issues and arguments of his day, and the last 150 pages are truly one soul's struggling with itself in a contemporary society, where class difference and voting and serfdom are very real issues.
Finally, the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation is the best. About three hundred pages in, I checked out another translation (I did this a third time about 700 pages along with yet another translation) to compare the translations, and I realized that Pevear and Volokhonsky have given this novel a brilliance and life like no previous translator. I found their footnotes informative and yet unobtrusive, and I read and reread Richard Pevear's introduction a number of times. This is a classic novel, and it has now been born anew via a brilliant translation. I highly recommend this novel!
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on September 9, 2002
The story of Anna Karenina and her ill-fated passion is a cautionary study of female perfection, romantic destiny and the inevitable betrayal inherent in passionate love. Symbolic of love and life as a journey, Anna's fate is sealed in a glance as she debarks a train and meets the eyes of the dashing Count Vronsky. As she descends, another woman leaps and the most famous symmetry in literature is launched. Sensationally beautiful and virtuous, this story from the golden age of Russian letters is undiminished by its driving, perfection of form and grace. And as such, it has become a classic of film as well as literature.
We remember details, we are now told by science, that have a unique 'hook' for our inattentive and fickle minds. The literary device that packages Anna, is perhaps the most famous in literature. Innumerable stars have traversed from Anna's rapture and addictive love, through the haunted choice that is a mother's nightmare. BR> The balance, the beauty and the fall- they lift what could have been a sentimental smoldering affair into the classic displeasure of the Gods who enact their vengeance through an offended social majority, an unforgiving and undeserving moral mob rule. Women, throughout history, have been denied forgiveness over acts of passion that suggested rebellion and contempt for patriarchal domination and social organization. Anna, like Iseult, was so subordinated to her passion, and perhaps so unprepared for a life of uncontrolled emotions, that she was under a spell. But spells fade and though a man can return and resume his honor- not so for a female, Tolstoy tells us. There is no excuse for not reading Karenina- it is, unlike War and Peace, the literary Faberge egg- survived in all its pre-revolutionary glory, and bittersweet appeal.
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