* Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 27, 2012

Tolstoy is regarded as one of the finest writers of all time, so who am I to say that I found Anna Karenina a less than satisfying read. True, there are some magnificent scenes, such as Vronsky’s horse race, but there are also many incredibly dull and interminable passages. Actually, it’s one long slow soap opera, but that does explain its success as an Oprah selection. I don’t like soap operas and I stopped reading after 400 pages.

* opening sentence … “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Great start, from which we know that this is going to be a story about more than one unhappy family.

* who are the major characters? … Tolstoy starts with the Oblonskys, Prince Stepan and Princess Darya (Dolly), who are not the main characters, although Stepan was, for me, the most interesting. If you didn’t know differently, you might think that Stepan and Dolly are the major characters. When other characters are introduced, it’s still not clear who the major characters will be. I suspect this is not a technique which would work in 2007.

* Karenin is a beautifully developed supporting character, pathetically unable to act in furtherance of his own wishes, motivated only to avoid being embarrassed before his professional and social associates. However, his moments of introspection make us care about him.

* settings. Tolstoy’s descriptions of places are remarkable.

* character development. The interior monologues are always enjoyable and often quite revealing.


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