It took me a long time, but I finally finished Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. After fully digesting it, I can say that it is tied for my favorite fiction novel along side John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Tolstoy writes beautifully.
His choice of words and expressions are extremely deliberate. Imagine if Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa by dotting the canvas with a fine tipped brush. Every dot, ever colour purposeful. And finally stepping back to reveal a compelling portrait. That’s what reading Anna Karenina is like. This is the first thing I noticed while reading this book. The second was a little more subtle.
When reading fiction I find authors introduce new characters by explaining what they’re like. They will give you a breakdown, a list of likes, dislikes, their background and maybe a few personality traits. Tolstoy doesn’t do this. He literally constructs characters. He builds characters through their actions, mannerisms, choice of words, aspirations, taste in aesthetics, hobbies etc. This indirect approach subtly builds the essence of each character, which Tolstoy uses to construct context in the novel. These contexts give shape to the themes and interactions that take place between each character. And from these interactions the reader can see how each character evolves and inevitably forwards the plot. I’ll allow Tolstoy to explain. This was his response to editor and educator S.A. Rachinsky after he accused Tolstoy of lacking connection and cohesion in his novel.
“Your Judgment of Anna Karenina seems wrong to me. On the contrary, I am proud of my architecture. But my values have been assembled in such a way that the keystone cannot be seen. Most of my effort has gone into that. The cohesion of the structure does not lie in the plot or in the relations (the meetings) of the characters, it is an internal cohesion…look well and you will find it”
I really want to emphasize the phrase “my values have been assembled in such a way that the keystone cannot be seen.” This is what I thought to be the true genius of Anna Karenina and why I would highly recommend reading it.
I read this copy. It won a translation prize so I’d say its a good copy to read.