Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

August 24, 2012

I am not sure when the thought lodged itself in my head but for many a fortnight I considering reading War and Peace on my iPhone.  I finally started a few months ago but I quickly lost passion for the project.  Why?  To put it bluntly, War and Peace is boring.  I struggled on for a few weeks but finally gave up somewhere in Austria with Napoleon’s Army hounding the Russian horde.

Somewhat later I read a Scientific American article concerning how reading sharpens the mind.  Also, that reading fiction helps understand people because fiction is about people (duh).  The article mentioned 10 fiction books the worth reading:

  1. The Sorrows of Young Werther (1787) by Johann von Goethe
  2. Pride And Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen
  3. The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  4. Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert
  5. Middlemarch (1870) by George Eliot
  6. Anna Karenina (1877) by Leo Tolstoy
  7. Mrs Dalloway (1925) Virginia Woolf
  8. Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison
  9. Disgrace (1999) by J.M. Coetzee
  10. The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) by Mohsin Hamid

I’ve only read one of the books – The Scarlet Letter – and that was a long time ago in another place and time (Alexis High School).  So, I decided to try and experiment, read the 10 books, and ascertain if they sharpened my mind (I wonder how you measure that). The obvious choice was to read Anna Karenina first since I had just given up on another Leo Tolstoy novel.  To my pleasant surprise Anna was quite interesting even though there was no action to speak of (I am a science fiction lover which is normally rife with action).

I have always loved Fyodor Dostoevsky, the greatest of all Russian novelists, whose books consists of dozens of characters with many plots inverleaving amongst themselves.  In contrast Anna has two main characters – Anna and Levin.  There are several other significant supporting characters with significant roles – Count Vronsky, Anna’s lover –  Alexei, Anna’s husband –  Kitty, Levin’s wife – Dolly, Kitty’s sister – Stephan, Dolly’s husband

The novel begins with one of the most often quoted beginning lines of all times: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  This line summarized the entire novel.  However go ahead and read the novel because it is quite spell binding.

The story is woven around two main themes: 1) Anna’s husband to lover transition and then her life with the lover (Count Vronsky) proving that sometimes love does not conquer all and 2) Levin’s life and times from his courtship of Kitty to marriage with lots of time in between working on his estate and attempting to figure out the true meaning of life.

There was no action in the book at all.  Well there was a horse race or two and a suicide  but no action narrative, only the voices in the minds of the participants.  Even though the book was quite long, 1170 pages according to my iPhone, it was a quick read and never boring.  The author kept the story interesting with the conversation between the players and the meanderings within their minds.

Oh, to the iPhone part, I read about 1/2 of the book on the iPhone and the other 1/2 on the Kindle proving at least to myself the iPhone can be a good but not great reading device.

n summary, Anna Karenina is a good read that is amazingly never boring.  I recommend it to anyone.  Now I wonder if my mind is sharper.

Wikipedia has a more in depth and less subjective review of Anna Karenina at