“‘Love,’ she slowly repeated to herself, and suddenly while releasing the lace, she added aloud: ‘The reason I dislike that word is that it means too much for me, far more than you can understand’…”
– (Anna Karenina)
Just so you know, I, like with every other book, started reading Anna Karenina without getting into what it has to offer me. But with huge fandom for this classic, I couldn’t be spared with not having the minimum knowledge possible of the book’s plot. So, I knew Anna is the heroine of the book (which is pretty much evident from the title itself); but when you call someone a heroine, you expect that lady to be like modern wonder woman, who, even with darkness around, always finds a way to shine and make the world a better place; a heroine is supposed to suffer only to swoop in the end and have the ultimate triumph. Same were my expectations from this novel; from Anna, to be precise. Only if I knew, before I started reading, that Anna is the heroine but the one doomed to have sad life, and more than so a tragic end.
But such heroines aren’t weak, are they? They fight, they struggle, they strive to breathe until their very last moment; but heroines are human after all; they will fight for their love, for their life, for what they deserve; but when it becomes too much, it’s over. It’s over not because their body didn’t have that vigor left, but because their heart had had enough and was swelled, that a prick would make it explode destroying everything around.
All the while when I was reading about Anna, not even a single time did I feel I’m reading about a Russian woman of a century and a half ago. Her life, her love, her strength were same as any twenty-first century’s woman. How does one, from a normal and lavish life, through one’s own horrid (if one may call them so) decisions, can stumble into dark, gloomy and hopeless situations, Anna Karenina is a perfect example of such. In order to achieve something, how one can lose everything, when it’s you against the world, Anna Karenina is its perfect depiction.
Now the writing style, I don’t think I can even comment on it. First, I’m a huge fan of classics, second, how can I give my verdict over such a masterpiece? I mean not in a single classic, that I’ve read, could I point one out whose writing style was offensive to me. Yes one story can appeal me more than the other but writing styles of all have been like the shining diamonds. You know, the ones that you cannot not like!
Also, I’ve never read anything like this until now. The novel revolved around many relationships, especially romantic ones, but the way chosen by Tolstoy to do so was a peculiar one. Neither a boy fell for a girl, nor a girl for a boy; but married people fell under spells of bachelors and vice-versa, and so infidelity is what will you find across this novel in bits and pieces. It doesn’t glorify infidelity, but shows what committing it can do.
The narration of this bulky classic has been planned and executed in such a tremendous way that it leaves you awestruck.
How one character felt when the other abandoned him, you get to know about both sides, their thoughts, their reasons, and that is what I loved the most in here. You know what and why of an action and of a reaction too. Main characters- Oblonsky and Dolly, Kitty and Levin, Anna and Vronsky, Karenin and Lydia, and many other minor characters like that of Varenka, Serezha, and many more, have such a strong impression that each of them make you notice their presence, their character, their lives.
Tolstoy has directed most of his focus towards the inner turmoil and pleasure of a character, which ultimately makes the reader not only feel for the character but live within that character. It’s not Anna that suffers but you, it’s not Levin that struggles but you, not Vronsky but you, not Oblonsky but you. Such is the impact that these characters and their lives will have on you.
Initially, I struggled to decide for myself if I liked Anna, our tragic heroine, or despised (yes such intense was the feeling in some cases) her. But, as I proceeded, got to know more about her, I realized Anna isn’t a saint, she isn’t a devil, neither is she God, who is above all the goods and bads of humans; she is a human too and, just like me and you, she takes wrong decisions, she is driven to take directions whose signboards ask one to go the other way, she becomes jealous when she shouldn’t have been, she struggles to keep her calm when she should have, she loves with passion and so hates with passion too, she is all what we humans are, then why cannot she be allowed to act like one?
And that is when it occurred to me that I quite forgot that I was reading a story about a human, a normal, living, breathing, human; and so I should keep my judgmental glasses down and see her struggles like that I see mine.
While reading, I also wondered why the novel’s title is “Anna Karenina?” Reason being, almost all the main characters have taken same space as Anna in this Russian classic, in fact, some have taken more than her, then why only Anna to be called the heroine? All the characters in this book have been through roughs and toughs of life, but none like Anna, and then I got my answer- that is why she is our story’s heroine.
As the story progresses, you will notice the transitions that main characters go through. I find this to be one of the perks of having read such a long novel; not that shorter stories or novels have any lesser impact, some of them have the same impact, take Rohinton Mistry’s Family Matters– it takes you through all the transitional stages of a person, whom you could never see the way he ended up when you started the novel; but with a longer one, your life in that world of characters gets stretched and you notice more transitions of more characters, which always is nice to witness, isn’t it?
Now, you may ask, you liked the story, the structure, and the characters too, why not 5 stars then? Because many scenes, the ones of Levin and his dilemmas towards God and religion, especially towards the ending of the novel, couldn’t excite me to like them. And if only that wasn’t an important part, I could have had let it go, but all those dilemmas were an integral aspects of Levin’s character. I, perhaps, don’t have inclination towards such topics, and thus couldn’t like them. A guilty confession- I even skimmed a few pages in the almost end. But whatever it was, this is the reason I rated this Russian classic with stars.
So now, should you read this novel? I cannot find a reason why you should not. So please go and read and remember to keep your judgmental goggles (if you have them up) down the moment you read this stellar, world-famous line-
“All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
– (Anna Karenina)
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