Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are a lot of great reviews for this book out there and if I wanted to be writing one of them, I would have to put a lot of time and effort into breaking down the major themes, the moral ambiguity, the consummate REALITY expressed in these pages, the tragedy, the hope, the searching of one's heart... and the amazing blindness of it.
Then again, I guess I can express that quickly. But this novel really should not be dismissed so blithely, either.
Anna might have the title, and this woman might be full of life and passion and desire and we might sympathize with her to a degree and sigh with her plight against the patriarchy of the time, but on an entirely different level, she is pretty horrible. There is no caricature here. She has a love of life, wanting to break free from the stultifying dullness of reality, to discover love with another after she's already been married. Pretty tame by today's standards, maybe, but this isn't even the main point.
The constraints are the point. The society that gleefully ruins us with its culture, mores, laws, religiosity, and the parts of that that seep in under our skin. She slowly ruins herself, hating her husband for his virtues, blinding herself to her own state, and spiraling down to her own ruin by tiny degrees as her desire for passion wars against the reality of her life.
And the other main character of this book, a much more sympathetic character, IMHO, Levin, expresses so many of Tolstoy's own views and devotes a ton of page-time to the very societal norms that destroy Anna. It's VERY Russian literature. High ideals writ large, explored in grand fashion, developed and grown like a garden featuring ripe and rotten fruits that we, as readers, are forced to eat.
We see all the big concerns of the day. Marxism is something that the contemporary people live and breathe, after all. Let's just ignore what happens a few decades later when the actual revolution comes around and read all about the idealistic hunger that suffuses the society. How to destroy inequality, how make things Just for all men and women, how to live a good, quiet life to the best of our abilities? It's all here. From Atheism to turning back to the old ways. From righteousness to total acceptance of the moral greyness.
And no character is truly evil or good. It might be nice to fall into the PoV of anyone for a while and try to see their suffering as a direct consequence of another's evil, but what we learn here is pretty simple.
The evil lies in the half-lidded eyes.
It lies in not seeing things clearly. Yourself, others, your state, your life. Lying to yourself. Carrying on like nothing is wrong. Believing what you want to believe.
Every single tragedy in this book comes from the blindness.
For that, I really love this book. A gorgeous, sprawling, immensely detailed and fleshed-out book. Well worth the praise. :)
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