Book review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

By Sagnik Biswas (L&T-MHPS)

Firstly, I must say, the name of the novel does NOT do justice to the contents in my opinion. Anna is not the only central character of the novel and Levin does not get enough familiarness that he deserves. But then again, knowing him, he might just be feeling embarrassed even with what little he has.

The aspect that captivated me at once was the details. Tolstoy elaborated everything, literally everything in details minute to such degrees not experienced beforehand. Ranging from nineteenth century Russian society to the mere thoughts going on in a canine mind – he left nothing to imagination! Take for example a simple dinner party, which others would have wrapped up within one to one and a half page mostly, focusing only on the significant events – Tolstoy went on to construct the whole event with utmost care in the reader’s mind, complete with the very trains of thoughts going on in the minds of almost each and every significant individual throughout the evening. He described the discussions they were having, how one’s words affected others – who frowned, who beamed, and why one cast a sidelong glance, how one in the middle of a conversation thought about the other one’s argument and considered the differences between their opinions, which suppressed emotions played between certain individuals at certain instances – truly, sometimes it became quite overwhelming to take all those information in! But then again, once you do perceive them all, you experience such a vivid visualisation of the whole event that it feels like practically living in the scene, in that time period – which is a reward in its own right.

Agricultural system, social, political and administrative structure, socio-political issues, social customs – his extensive description is essentially a detailed account of nineteenth century Russia, a peek in the history. Although, I must say it is severely class-centric, focusing solely on the bourgeois and providing considerably little insight on the muzhik class albeit their subtle presence. But even so, it provided a brilliant record of historical Russia.

Character development is the other aspect that left me in trance. After I turned over the last page, I simply sat there in silence. Looking back at how they had started and how they ended up – I couldn’t but be in awe. Anna, Levin, Alexandrovich, Vronsky and Kitty – all of them had changed, for better or for worse, as time went by. For some it happened at a more gradual pace, brick by brick, almost so that one wouldn’t have noticed unless casting a glance on how that character used to be a couple hundreds of pages earlier. And then again, there were some whose life took a turn spiritually at the drop of a dime, and so radical were those turns that I literally had to double-check if I was still following the same character.

I have ranted on for quite some time, I know, but I can’t help it! I just can’t say enough about the book. Whatever little I have leaves me with the feeling that I may have missed much more. I wanted to talk so much about so many things – about Anna, about Levin, about Laska, about Kitty and so on and so forth. But this is just a book review and not a character analysis, and my time is running out; hence I will rest my fingers here and be off for now.

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