I am very opinionated when it comes to books. I love books with a passion and I can’t stop reading everything I get my hands on. That being said, I feel very strongly about how books should be. When I read a book, I have a tendency to form instant opinions about the story/characters. Classic books are a bit harder to do that with. Classics force you to think and really read the book, not just skim.
(Unless it’s Robinson Crusoe. I give you full permission to skim through it. I, personally, cannot stand Robinson Crusoe. I’m not sure why.)
I read Anna Karenina recently. Since I had very strong feelings about about it, I decided to write a review to get those feelings off my chest and onto paper. Er, text. Whatever.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy knew what he was saying when he wrote the now-famous line from his book Anna Karenina. The Russian novel has been called “One of the greatest love stories in world literature”. If a story about infidelity, betrayal, selfishness, revenge, and despair is considered one of the greatest love stories, then there is something very wrong with our idea of a love story.
Anna Karenina, the title character, is a married woman with a young son. Not feeling loved by her husband, she turns to the young solider, Count Vronsky, for solace. Her affair destroys her relationships with almost everyone around her; her betrayed husband who refuses to grant her a divorce, her son, her sisters-in-law, Count Vronsky, and eventually it destroys her. Anna seems to be a great denier. She refuses to see the fact that she is in the wrong, living with a man who is not her husband and expecting everyone to just turn a blind eye on her sinfulness. She sinks deeper and deeper into despair, eventually succumbing.
I really struggled with the whole premise of this book. As a Catholic, the idea of infidelity is repugnant to me. Even if Anna didn’t feel loved by her husband, she shouldn’t have turned to another man for affection instead. It’s more important to uphold the sanctity of marriage, rather than chase after love at all costs. Anna is a selfish woman, wanting Vronsky, her son, and happiness, no matter who she hurt. When she isn’t satisfied, she keeps looking for more. Her unfaithful relationship isn’t enough. She must have everything and be right about everything. When she isn’t getting her way, she takes it out on others. That becomes very evident in the end.
However, Anna Karenina is unique in the fact it doesn’t flinch away from showing the results of Anna’s disastrous choice. It doesn’t end with Anna and Vronsky ending up together. No, it keeps going, all the way to the detonation of their relationship. This isn’t a love story. This is a tragic story about giving into temptation, refusing to change, giving into despair, and suffering the consequences of your bad choices. Tolstoy is a master storyteller, if a bit wordy. He illustrates the fact that choices have consequences, and your choices can affect everyone around you, for good or for worse.