Leo, Anna, And A Year Of My Life

*Because of when Anna was written, it is available online in full text through several websites.



Probably close to a year ago I got a brilliant idea that I wanted to experience Leo Tolstoy.  I had been watching Jeopardy and one of the answers said something to the effect that Tolstoy was considered one the greatest writers in history and his work Anna Karenina was a classic that everyone should read.  Needless to say, I took the challenge.  What I failed to consider was that I had just started graduate school and tackling Tolstoy was just not practical.  I’ve read it off and on during my breaks between classes and finally finished it last weekend.

I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain!  Unfortunately my brain feels like fried jello…beneath the thin crust, it’s all liquidy and useless.  Blame the research.  So this review will not be what Tolstoy deserves, but I in no way feel like an expert on his writing anyway.

First, Tolstoy’s writing is incredibly dense.  The 923 pages read more like double that.  He’s not for the faint of heart.  He is also a wordy writer, and I wadded through long passages just to find out that it was between two strangers on the street and wasn’t relevant to the main characters at all.  Also quite obvious once you get into the book is that it was written as a serial.  Between 1875 and 1877, Anna Karenina was published a few chapters at a time.  When reading as whole, the serial nature of the publishing leads to a build-up of action every few chapters.  It can be distracting if you’re not used to reading that way, but classics like Three Musketeers by Dumas were published in the same fashion.

One aspect of his wordy style is that it painted a detailed, elaborate, and accurate picture of mid to late nineteenth century Russian society.  As a history nut, I find that really interesting, so it didn’t bother me as much as it might have otherwise.

One frustrating aspect of the story, however, was Russian names.  Each name has several forms, the formal and informal.  It leaves the reader who is unfamiliar with this aspect of the Russian language to feel like there’s twice as many characters as there really are.  Russian society in the late nineteenth century also spoke a lot of French as a sign of high society and class, so many French phrases are purposely left in the text.  Most are footnoted and translated, but again, for someone unfamiliar with this, it could be distracting and discouraging.

The plot itself was less scandalous than it would have been over a hundred years ago.  It’s meant to be a love story and examines all kinds including adulterous love, true love, parental love, and love for God.  I can see how parts could be considered trashy romance in the 1800s…hehe.  I was disappointed with the ending because it felt like it just faded off, emphasizing that life continues on I suppose.  Certainly not the bang I was looking for though.

Speaking of life continuing, readers get the sense that as Tolstoy jumps from character to character, their lives continued on without the reader.  When, several chapters later you get back to Anna’s life, sometimes it feels like you missed something.  Nowhere is this more obvious than when she starts to mentally lose it towards the end.  It feels very abrupt, and since I have stopped and started reading the text several times, I even backed up a few chapters thinking I forgot something in the interim.

Worth my time?


Made me rethink the feeling that I should read War and Peace sometime in my lifetime?

Oh yeah.


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