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on June 12, 2004
It's a rarity to come across books that have something remarkably accurate to say about your personal life (and challenge your beliefs) but "Anna" is definately one of them.
I just studied this novel for my english class and I found it fascinating.
It's not usually the kind of book I read (my knowledge of Russia in the 1900s is pretty bad and I worried I wouldn't understand a word of it) but I still found myself enjoying Tolstoy's story.
An 800 page read, I thought I might not have the patience to get through it (and at my reading pace it took a good couple of months - in between uni work etc.) However the way in which Tolstoy peoples his pages keeps you engulfed in his passionate world.
The reader feels as if they're growing old with the characters. Tolstoy presents, and allows for, many discussion and debate on the societal and moral values placed on the contraversial Anna and Levin.
Though this novel was written long ago it's themes are still applicable today, which makes for a great read.
The premise is perhaps not what draws readers (Characters throughout Tolstoy's novel experience dramatic changes in their life - beginning with Anna's affair) but the complicated way in which Tolstoy presents many different issues.
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on June 7, 2004
After owning this book for almost a year and being intimidated by it's 800 pages, I finally dug in about a month ago. All I can say is this: On June 1st, I ran out to purchase David Sedaris' new book, which I have been waiting for these last 4 years with breathless anticipation....but instead of devouring it immediately, I finished the last 100 pages of Anna first. That says alot for my commitment to this amazing book! I was so enthralled...the rich inner lives of these characters, the beautiful writing. I found myself reading sentences over and over, basking in their beauty.
I am surprised by the reviewers comments that the decisions and scenarios in this book are black and white, that the characters are stereotypes. I think the opposite is true---Tolstoy gives you a window into the thought life of every character and a glimpse at just how "grey" their struggles really are, the duality of their lives. Like Vronksy's desparate love for Anna, coupled with the nagging notion that he just might have left behind a life that he misses. Who cares (as many readers apparently do) that Anna doesn't show up until 80 pages in???? This book is more than one woman, it is a masterpeice filled with many memorable characters, male and female alike. It's the richness of the supporting characters that take this book to the next level. Simply amazing!
I tend to loathe Oprah for her book club "magic wand", but I am happy that she will bring a new crop of readers to this wonderful piece of literature. Not only will you appreciate the plot and the characters, you will appreciate the craft of writing itself.
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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 July 6, 2004
Who would have thought this novel would soar to the top of the amazon charts? Certainly not the translators, Pevear and Volokhonsky, who were shocked to hear their edition had been selected for Oprah's Book Club. It is great boon for them and the novel as well, which might be regarded as the godmother of the modern romance novel. Tolstoy weaves a magic web, bringing together dysfunctional aristocratic families in perhaps the most memorable Russian novel.
This translation brings the story to life for the non-Russian speaker. Pevear and Volokhonsky have made a habit out of translating Russian novels, from Gogol to Dostoevsky, and now are even tackling Tolstoy's epic work, War and Peace. The language is modern yet true to the Russian original, thanks in large part to Ms. Volokhonsky who is a native Russian speaker.
The story itself has been told so many times before that it doesn't need repeating. But for those who would like a little more insight into the novel, I would suggest reading Nabokov's chapter on Anna Karenina in his Lectures on Russian Literature, as he provides many valuable references over and above those provided by Pevear and Volokhonsky.
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on June 18, 2004
Anna Karenina is arguably the best work of fiction ever written. It is very long, and, at least for me, was not the kind of book you can read 50 pages at a time, like a contemporary work of fiction. Anna K. is more like a book you have to savor, a few pages at a time.
Although this book is about romance to a degree, as one who can't stand books or movies with romantic themes I can say that those who don't like romance should read it anyway, because romance is not the dominant theme, despite some appearances. Rather, this is a book about life, and it takes in the whole of life for Russia during the late Tsarist period. History rather than literature is my primary interest, and those who are historically-minded will find this book a treasure.
Despite being a tale of adultery between Anna K. and Vronsky, a young aristocrat, it is a morally uplifting book which emphasizes the joy and satisfaction that Levin and "Kitty"
(Katya/Yekaterina/Catherine) have in their marriage and their simple life at the estate. I heartily 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 July 17, 2004
I must admit there were times during my reading of this that I wanted to quit. There were a LOT of discussions of Russian politics and farming practices that, to me, were cumbersome. However, the last 3 paragraphs of the entire book were worth it all. I don't know that I've ever been so blown away by an author's ability to explain the unexplainable. Absolutely wonderful!
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on September 30, 2009
[Cross-posted to LibraryThing and LivingSocial]

I was a little daunted going into Anna Karenina, I thought of it as the ultimate Classic of Classics and I'd never read Tolstoy before. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it defied most of my expectations.

I thought the whole novel was just about Anna Karenina, but it was much more. Yes, it told the tragic story of Anna's loveless marriage and her doomed affair with Count Vronsky, but it also told the story of Konstantin Levin and his search for love, for faith, and for satisfaction in his work. In between, Tolstoy manages to work in commentary on family dynamics, societal expectations, the state of Russian agriculture, and the evolving political situation in Russia at the time he was writing.

The novel is long and it is loaded, but it is surprisingly accessible. Tolstoy understands human nature and he writes about it well, the characters here are all complex and have real conflicts that are still very relevant more than a hundred years after they were put to paper. It was a much easier read than I had expected and more engaging. It did get dry at times when Tolstoy went into long dissertations about farming or politics, and sometimes he took thirty pages to describe something that could have been covered in a few paragraphs. But just when I was ready to throw in the towel, the story took off again.

I think some of my enjoyment of the book suffered from the way that I read it, one part a month, and something like this is not very well suited to the summer months. I am planning to give it another go at some point in the winter, when I can curl up in a blanket and read it cover to cover.
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"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." That line opens and sets the tone of "Anna Karenina," a tangled and tragic tale of nineteenth century Russia. Tolstoy's story of lovers and family is interlaced with razor-sharp social commentary and odd moments that are almost transcendent. In other words, this is a masterpiece.

When Stepan Oblonsky has an affair with the governess, his wife says that she's leaving him, and now the family is about to disintegrate. Stepan's sister Anna arrives to smooth over their marital problems, and consoles his wife Dolly until she agrees to stay. But on the train there, she met the outspoken Countess Vronsky, and the countess's dashing son, who is semi-engaged to Dolly's sister Kitty.

Anna and Vronsky start to fall in love -- despite the fact that Anna has been married for ten years, to a wealthy husband she doesn't care about, and has a young son. Even so, Anna rejects her loveless marriage and becomes the center of scandal and public hypocrisy, and even becomes pregnany by Vronsky. As she prepares to jump ship and get a divorce, Anna becomes a victim of her own passions...

That isn't the entire story, actually -- Tolstoy weaves in other plots, about disintegrating families, new marriages, and the melancholy Levin's constant search for God, truth, and goodness. Despite the grim storyline about adultery, and the social commentary, there's an almost transcendent quality to some of Tolstoy's writing. It's the most optimistic tragic book I've ever read.

For some reason, Tolstoy called this his "first novel," even though he had already written some before that. Perhaps it's because "Anna Karenina" tackles so many questions and themes, and does so without ever dropping the ball. No wonder it's so long and imposing -- Tolstoy covered a lot of ground in here.

And while "Anna Karenina" was not the first book he wrote, it is probably the deepest and most moving. Tolstoy steeps the book in social commentary, and his personal philosophies. It's also one of those books that takes a very long time to move itself forward -- Tolstoy's writing is slow and ponderous, with a lot of serious discussion about religion and relationships. But his intense, slightly rough writing is worth it.

In some tragic books, you get the feeling that the author really despises his characters, and doesn't really care what happens to them. Tolstoy never gives you that feeling -- no matter how annoying his characters are, they always have something interesting or endearing. No caricatures at all -- even Anna's irritating, arrogant brother is given some quirks to make him seem real.

Oddly enough, the most moving character here is not Anna, but Konstantin Levin -- the tortured, passionate landowner is so earnest that it's difficult not to care about him. Apparently he was Tolstoy's alter ego, which explains his depth. But Anna and Vronsky are strong leads, a passionate pair who are both selfish and seductive, but never boring.

A beautiful look at living right vs. living wrong, "Anna Karenina" is a truly magnificent book. This book is undoubtedly Tolstoy's opus, and a stunning look at human nature.
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