Book Review & Takeaways: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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!

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10 Replies to “Book Review & Takeaways: Anna Karenina”

  1. oooh I really like how you show the relevance of Anna Karenina’s story&struggles to our lives as Christians, and the identification of a comparison between Anna’s way of dealing with hard times and Levin’s reaction to hard times. great post as usual!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooooh I love your blog! I’m so glad you posted it in the VSA discussion board! Anyway I loved Anna Karenina (the book). However, I did not like Anna Karenina (the person) at all. In the beginning, from her description of her husband, I thought she was married to a cruel man. But then we actually met him as readers, I realized I wasn’t cruel at all. A bit stiff and mechanical maybe, but not awful. And from that point on, I didn’t like Anna.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awww! Thanks, Guru! I also thought Karenin was a cruel man at first, but then when I learned that he was just an ordinary man, I realized we were seeing his flaws from Anna’s point of view only – which was a skeptical view to begin with. So, yes, I, like you, began to find her irritating from the outset, but I still had hope and compassion for her – that is, until she blatantly refused to change her unfaithful ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Please consider though, that Levin and Anna had precious few hardships in life. I believe that Tolstoy used an incredibly wealthy segment of society to depict this narrative for a reason. They wanted for NOTHING. Levin lost his brother, and Anna made a mess of things for herself. But ultimately I think they were both wretched in their own eyes particularly. Not due to hardships but due to self-awareness and the inevitable self-loathing that results. I think the way Anna appealed to God for forgiveness before she died is comparable to the thief who asked Christ for mercy on the cross. Levin, up until the end was the scoffing thief. He was content in his works. There are two kinds of sinners. This is the reason the ending is so so SO important. Many reviews I have read do not interpret it clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. Thank you for those insightful observations. I never looked at Anna as the thief on the cross, but I would be inclined to disagree with this idea. While the thief on the cross was repentant and specifically asked Christ to forgive and remember him in His kingdom, Anna never really repented and asked Christ specifically to save her. I think she just regretted what she had done.

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