Finally! I’ve done it. I’ve read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I have to admit, I undertook the entire task expecting to love it. And I wasn’t disappointed. So, here is my review and my takeaways from this amazingly written book. **SPOILER ALERT**
From the outset, I realized that Tolstoy was not one to let any minute detail slip his attention, and kudos to him for his acute attention and vivid descriptions. Characters from all over Russia came to life as they were imbued with realistic life struggles, attentions, passions, and thoughts. Okay, so I’ve heard many people say this book is boring, drawn out, and uninteresting. Let’s just take a moment to address this somewhat misconstrued idea (because I almost fell into this category while reading). While I must admit that the last couple hundred pages were perhaps slightly drawn out and grueling practice to read (I mean, Tolstoy uses like four chapters to describe the birth of Levin’s son), given how many characters were actually emotionally invested in the entire ordeal, how long would you expect the author to take in ideally and completely describing everyone’s changing emotions, points of view, and opinions?
In all honesty, I began doubting that this book would ever end because of how much Tolstoy kept writing after the climax of Anna’s suicide. I mean, the problem is over, why does the denouement have to be so long? And why did everyone just keep on living life as though nothing tragic had ever happened? But then, after finishing the book, I reflected on what his purpose might have been in drawing out the ending. I finally decided that Tolstoy might have been demonstrating the ephemeral nature of love and pain. Covertly, he may have been telling his reader, “Life continues despite tragedy. Ultimately, our desire for love can only be satisfied in a relationship with Christ, as seen in Levin’s having found peace and fulfillment in his faith.”
From the beginning, Tolstoy developed Anna with such beauty and blemish that she seemed to have the power to reach outside of her fictional character setting and to charm even the most unreachable heart. Unfortunately, I was never completely taken by Anna – not because of Tolstoy’s lack of remarkable writing abilities, but because my moral standards, as a Christian, were above Anna’s capacity to meet them, as an unbeliever. Given the detailed emotional and social development of Anna, had it not been for my own moral reservations, my pity for her unpromising predicament may have been sufficient to induce me to tears. As it happens, I didn’t cry at the end. Anna was pitiful, yes. I felt her acute pain, yes. But a part of me kept saying, “It was her choice. She knew what she was doing. Have compassion, but do not condone her actions because of your compassion.” So, I didn’t. Although it may sound heartless, when Anna finally committed suicide, I kind of expected it – not just because I had heard that she would, but because I realized the hopelessness of her situation could not be remedied by her lack of faith in God and shame in her predicament. Anna never realized her sin, it never disgusted her, so she never sought a solution outside of herself to solve it.
So, in summary, here are my takeaways:
~ Leo Tolstoy is a remarkable, detailed, talented author (so, you can expect a review of War and Peace later on).
~ Anna Karenina’s reaction to hardship (suicide) is a parallel comparison to Levin’s reaction to hardship (finding faith in God).
~ Christians should remember that all emotions are ephemeral and insignificant without faith in Christ.
~ No matter the sin, suicide is not a solution. Faith in God is ultimately the only solution to finding relief in any sin.
If you have read Anna Karenina, comment below about your thoughts and takeaways!