Anna Karenina

Thoughts    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstory, Tradeback print Penguin Classics 2000 Translated by Pevear&Volokhonsky · Audiobook Naxos 2010 Narrated by Kate Lock

YAY!  I succeeded! I completed this. It was my Moby Dick (that is, until I commit to attempt to read Moby Dick… )

My readers are most bored with my story of how many times I have tried to read this. This was my fourth attempt and I owe success to the audiobook. Rather than a review, I will just ramble some random thoughts. Also, do note, I am joining in on the Anna Karenina Readalong CONCLUDING TODAY hosted by Arti at Ripple Effects so do click here to go there and read other’s thoughts on this classic.

I was amazed how relevant most of Tolstoy’s thoughts and reactions to everyday stuff and how easily he wove these into the story as thoughts and asides of the characters.

About 80% of the way in, I wish I had made tally of how many times the word HAPPY and UNHAPPY were used. We could say this book is one big idea on ways to be happy or how to ruin said ‘happy’.

It’s a long book. But I was so grateful that Mr. Tolstoy used a short chapter structure. This made it very easy for me to track the listening to the reading and know where I was in the story, to find my place in the print.

I do know that I missed a few things. Like how exactly were Vronsky and Anna able to afford their travels? We had one chapter exclusively on where Vronsky’s money came from and how he really didn’t have any and then, I don’t recall another word about it. Yet, they were able to afford a nanny for the daughter who really got the short shift on everything, poor thing.

Now THERE is a book. Somebody should write about her. Where did she end up? Who raised her? What did she think of her life? Was she pissed off? Was she reincarnated as Esther in Bleak House?

All these crazy thousands of Jane Austen spin offs… Where are the Tolstoy spin offs?  Just wonderin’.

Look at this great hat!

I’m super dooper excited to see the film which looks LUSCIOUS & SUMPTUOUS; a delight to the senses. It’s DRAMA, people!  I think it will be great and don’t think I will be disappointed in the least.

Levin drove me batty at times. He should have just clobbered Kitty over the head and drug her off to the farm and this would have cut the book by 2/3 at least. And then just be HAPPY and stop over thinking everything! He is the balance to Anna as he is the one to figure it all out in the end.

My absolute favoritest scenes were when we got inside the head of Levin’s hunting dog. She was brilliant. Dogs are cool.

Dolly’s husband didn’t deserve her. He had some of the best lines, though.

“There it is, my friend. It has to be one of the other: either admit that the present social arrangement is just and then defend your own rights, or admit that you enjoy certain unjust advantages, as I do, and enjoy them with pleasure.”


I had grand ideas to contrast the translations from the audio to the print but I am having a hard time retrieving the notes in my app and then matching to the text. It was easy to match while reading but to check back now seems frustrating and elusive. I should have taken better notes.

I had little sympathy for Anna  and cared little for Vronsky. I liked Kitty and her sister.

I will be loaning my print copy to my friend Holly. We were able to get together last Saturday for coffee and book chatter and she expressed interest AND hesitation. She timidly asked me what it was about and I admit that I foolishly started babbling as if it was a soap opera. I don’t think I spoiled it – can you really spoil this one? Anyway, she said, “Yes, please, I will accept if you have a copy.”  YIPPEE!

This is what I babbled, sort of, I think:

“Well, Anna is married to an old guy who is pretty high up and respected in the government and she goes to visit  her brother to help him patch things up with his wife cuz he’s an ass and then gets invited to a dance where Dolly’s little sister is in love with this dude Vronsky and thinks he is going to ask her to marry him but he has no idea or intention to do that and in the mean time there is this guy Levin, who happens to be Anna’s brother’s best friend even though they are not alike AT ALL, who would rather be at his farm but he’s in love with Kitty, that’s Dolly’s little sister and  — wait, I told you Dolly is Anna’s sister-in-law, married to Anna’s brother who has so many names it’s ridiculous. Well at this dance, see? Anna falls head over heels in lust with Vronsky and so Kitty is upset because she had turned down Levin who had just minutes before had asked her to marry him which causes him to run away back to his farm where he is terribly lonely and by god, there is no way he could consider marrying a peasant girl, WHAT? Why that would be WRONG!! and so let’s get back to Anna; she has this affair with Vronsky, gets pregnant and no one  really  has that much to say on that really, just that – wow she is sleeping around behind her husband’s back and  in front of him, too  and yet Karenin won’t divorce her. Cuz he’s found religion.”

Which I suppose is what happens but NOT what the book is really ABOUT, right? Perhaps I should have talked about grand sweeping themes?

Thank you audiobooks! I don’t think I would have made it through this one without you.

I hear the Davinia Porter narration is excellent, too.


Have you ever enthusiastically blabbed a ridiculous summary of a book? 

Do try other’s excellent reviews:  Dolce Bellezza, an everyday life, Ripple Effects.

[UPDATED 3/13/13 with post of my MOVIE review –> here <–.]


Copyright © 2007-2012. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

35 thoughts on “Anna Karenina

  1. Wait, you have little sympathy for Anna? No wonder it took you a while to get into this book! I remember being carried away by the drama and romance when I first read this at 16 or 17. Perhaps I would have less sympathy for Anna now, but I have to see the movie before I can reread it.

    1. Yes, that seems to be the consensus – if you read this from a 16 yo female perspective, you were totally enamored for and cheered for Anna, but my middle-aged (cough) sensibilities, question her judgment. I’ll let my movie-loving-self get swept away instead.

      1. Though I was in much sympathy for poor Kitty at the Love-at-First-Dance moments at the dance. That part was amazingly written! and she was totally crushed by Anna- really she was an old married lady compared to Kitty! Why wouldn’t the 16 yo’s cheer for her? Probably because she slowly had her romance ‘become’? less passion? (I don’t think so) or because it was Levin who certainly was not what we might call ‘dashing’.

  2. Hurray for audiobooks, but what’s this about an app?? Must look into that! I loved Anna Karenina – it’s been well over a decade, so high time for a reread. Think I’ll go with audio (or a read/listen combo) this time around.

    1. Uh, it is the only way I know to listen to an audiobook? on my iPhone. but it is clumsy-clumsy when you want to use bookmarks as notes to refer to later.

        1. ha! I’ve never owned on iPod! Jumped right to the iPhone when I washed my clunker of an old old cellphone. FINALLY! and the weight of that decision was based on audiobook listening capability.

  3. LOL! That’s a great E-Notes synopsis of the book. How observant you are too in counting all the ‘Happy’ and ‘Unhappy’ words. Thanks so much for joining in the Anna K. Read-Along at the pond over at Ripple Effects. And thanks for throwing in a pebble to make some ripples. A Tolstoy’s Anna K. spin off? What a brilliant idea! I guess Keira Knightly’s film could be the start. Don’t you wish we could all go to see it together? So now, I look forward to your movie review. 😉

    1. Don’t hold your breath, as much as I want to see the movie, I may not get to it any time soon, unfortunately. I think my movie-watching partner would prefer to go see Skyfall. It’s been forever since I’ve been to a movie theater but I *DO* so want to go.
      And I didn’t really keep count of the word HAPPY but there were a LOT.

  4. It’s interesting that you kept track of how many times Tolstoy used ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’. Indeed, in the prologue of my edition it was mentioned that this book is about happiness. But, I think it’s about so much more. It’s about the choices we make effecting our lives, and those around us, forever. It’s about society, and what makes up the fabric of an effective one. I loved Levin, I loved his work ethic, his groundedness, and his ephiphany. However, like you, I wouldn’t have minded if he ‘clobbered’ Kitty a few times in the beginning of the story. Thank goodness that couple, at least, worked out a successful relationship!

    1. And we know it from the famous first sentence that we will encounter some unhappiness, at least. Perhaps this is the clue we need to know why Anna gets the title.
      Levin was such an admirable if not frustrating character. He truly embraced this responsibility to be true to himself if he could only figure out what that meant.

      1. And not really frustrating, mildly maybe. He would just annoy me when he would declare “if ONLY ____ would happen, he would have it all”. And then once he got it, fought it and overanalyzed it and egads….

  5. Funny you should mention Moby Dick. It’s on my TBR list, also. But it may take a read-along to get me going…

    But back to Anna. I, too, was a fan of Tolstoy’s short chapter structure. Throughout each of the eight parts, I kept thinking about that first set of readers, who had to wait for the next installment to be published. It makes me wonder how it would be to read the story with the same spacing of time as experienced by his first readers. It would certainly allow more time for contemplation between the eight movements of the story.

    I remember reading some passages more than once — sometimes for the pure joy of the scenes (like the hunting scene told from the point-of-view of Levin’s dog that you mentioned, and other times because of poor comprehension the first-time through. But overall, I felt the book was so readable, in spite of its size.

    I can’t imagine not ever re-reading it.

    1. I think everyone has mentioned the dog and her thoughts! I own two hunting dogs and have bird hunted myself, so this was really relatable to me.

      I’m reading Bleak House, now and it is interesting to see how the story and the parts unfold while knowing the author had to have had a master plan. Though, I realize now, the author probably didn’t WRITE the darn thing in portions as it was printed. Doh!

    1. Thank you! I feel proud and humbled. It’s not so bad once you get into it. I recommend the audio! I seem to love the really long audiobooks.

  6. Your enthusiasm for the book is wonderful! You know, I didn’t notice all the happy and unhappy repetition! Should I ever reread it I will have to keep on the lookout for it. I loved the narrative with Levin’s dog too. Anna’s poor daughter ends up being shuffled to Anna’s husband when Vronsky decides to go commit suicide by joining up for the war. The poor girl, can you imagine how horrible her life childhood will end up being?

  7. This books impressed me because of the parallel plot lines. As Levin gains faith and hope Anna looses her’s. It was beautiful in so many ways. Glad you read it!

  8. I don’t even attempt book summaries anymore so kudos to you. I never know just how much people want to know about a book (because I don’t want to know ANYTHING but I do somehow know how poor Anna ends up), so I just don’t.

    I’ve heard that this one is boring. And I miss things on audio as well. I’ve decided that if I’m going to continue with Bleak House audio and not re-read the chapters then I need to at least read the Sparknotes Summary of chapters. It’s amazing what one misses while daydreaming about something else. 😉

    Congrats on finishing. I read Moby Dick a time and a half (second half was for a paper) and I liked it but it was work. Maybe a 2014 readalong?

  9. OK, my book is on my desk now (I haven’t seen that Penguin copy around here, got the Vintage one instead). Thinking about it reading over Christmas/New Year. I did try briefly at 15, but I was more interested in reading Maeve Binchy and historical romance at the time 😉

  10. Congratulations for finally finishing it!! I read it a few years ago, after Oprah started pushing classics (because dead authors couldn’t give her a hard time). Anyway, it was for my book group, and I was the only one who actually finished it. I liked parts of it but I thought the middle really dragged — I got tired of Levin’s angst — he had Kitty, he had a child, he had a farm — why the heck couldn’t he just be happy???? And I wanted to smack Anna because she was such an idiot. But again, I am a middle-aged woman and not a 16 year old.

    Let me know if you ever have a Moby-Dick readalong. It’s another ginormous classic I haven’t yet tackled.

  11. Hmm, I admit to not really being super-interested by this novel, but I don’t know why I’m not. I generally like The Russian Authors, even though they are fairly depressing.

    I want to see the movie, too, but I wish it didn’t have Keira Knightley! Gosh, she bothers me.

  12. It came, I saw, and I reviewed. It just premiered in our city yesterday, and I went to the first screening. What do I think of it? Mixed feelings. Have you seen it? I was suggesting to Bellezza that we should post our reviews so to have a ‘watch-along’ as well. 😉

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