I spent a little over a month reading Anna Karenina, hoping and praying for the book not to end. It was my first Tolstoy, and I have to say, one of the best reading experiences of my life. Tolstoy is known, according to that little book analysis at the beginning of my edition (I can't seem to remember who has written it) for his ability to make fiction seem real, and the characters do almost walk right off the pages. I am certain, that Anna Karenina is one of the best works of literary realism.
Someone asked me a while ago what the book was about, and my reply, "A love affair and the social and personal disasters it leads to" just didn't seem to cut it. It is a book about an entire Society, I would now say. Religion, politics, marriage, happiness, insecurity, death, aristocracy, social obligation and everything in between. I used to think it was beautiful and amazing how writers can come up with a whole new world, a bizarre, fantastic world; which is why fantasy was my favourite genre. I think now, that it is much harder to come up with a world that so closely resembles real life. To write an (almost) nine hundred pages-long story, with not just a single one-directional plot, but a combination of the lives and concerns of about fifty characters, strung together by the fact that they live in the same society.
Tolstoy managed to keep me engaged the entire time, because it was not just a world entirely new to me, but a world that might just have been real once upon a time. Fascinating. The writing had an amazing flow to it, and I would like to believe that little was lost in translation. The book was a page-turner, but not in the sense that I wanted to find out how it ends, but because I wanted to find out just what happens next. I loved that the book wasn't only about the charming Anna Karenina and her tragic love affair with Count Vronsky. What wonderfully contrasted the story of Anna Karenina, was that of Konstantin Levin, (possibly my favourite character) the socially inept landowner, who is more or less a representation of every individual's search for some substantial meaning of life.
Ultimately, the one thing that hit me the most about the book, is what Tolstoy has to say about family. It is a book about different people, their lives intersecting by a matter of chance, coping with their everyday problems, while their fates are decided by the already defined society.
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Tolstoy's ability to describe even the littlest of things in a way that you feel you're actually there is commendable. You realize so much about the characters just from the way they move, sit, talk. Throughout the book, Tolstoy has described things from the outward social view as well as given you a glimpse into the characters' minds, their thoughts, opinions, their seemingly unpredictable decisions. You also see, and this was the one thing I really appreciated, the different characters from each other's viewpoints. I think that gives the most insight into the way people think, the quick judgments we make, the small insecurities, envy, jealousy, anger. I was really amazed at how precisely the author has displayed the emotions flowing through a person at every stage, how well he has shown arguments and fights and little bursts of anger.
The story gave me so much to think about; I have been chewing my brain on the contents of this book since last night (when I finally finished reading it.) In all probability, I have yet to grasp many aspects of the book. Some things might strike me later, or when I read the book all over again. But there's one thing I am entirely sure of at this moment, (and it isn't just the post-reading excitement talking) this is the most amazing book I have ever read and I would love to re-read and re-experience it!
(I have the Back to Classics Challenge to thank for, without which I would never have taken up the daunting task of reading this enormous book!)