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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: David Campbell, 1912. 963 pages. Reviewed by Kunle Abrahams.
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time. He was an essayist and philosopher, who wrote the epic novel, War and Peace (1865-69).Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1878) and War and Peace were both placed on Time Magazine greatest novels of all time.
Tolstoy sets himself a high goal of presenting a Russian society template of pre- 19th century and how it impacts on the morality and behaviour of the novel’s characters, drawn mainly from the middle and upper class.
The novel extensively explores the richness and the potentials of the Russian society at the time, in the areas of its culture, burgeoning industrial and technological development, in comparison with the sophistication and advancement of its of western neigbours ..Apart from this, the novel builds its plot on the main characters such as Anna Karenina ,Levin ,Kitty,Vronsky,Karenin in their attempts to assert their independence, from the encumbrances of societal norms and expectations. The story is built round the enigma of a woman called Anna, who though is not introduced early enough, but when eventually presented, unleashes her charm on not only the plot of the story, but also other characters. Being slowly eased into the storyline, Anna quickly grows to becoming a villain. From being a well-loved society lady, almost impeccable in propriety and a paragon of ultimate virtues, she grows to become an outcast in a conservative society, where breaking marital vows or crossing its rigid lines is tantamount to committing a character suicide.
The strength of the novel is anchored on the almost effortless storytelling ability of Tolstoy, doing an extensive background presentation of the Russian society of the period, without sounding historical and staid. He also cleverly infuses his social, economic perspectives on various issues, especially the management of Agriculture and land in relationship to class structure. One could vividly see a clear setting, presented for the readers, of an era which is a prelude to the Russian Revolution of 1917.The novel also mostly leverages on presenting its views through the exploration of the characters of the novel, especially the main ones. In following the struggles and travails of these characters, the reader is ultimately brought into a congress of sympathy with them, even the ones that have perpetrated abominable acts ,by the standards of the conservative Russian society.
However, the novel in some parts could read like a textbook on Russian Socio –Economic History, especially in the early parts. The book, which is a story about Anna Karenina, an engaging and charismatic character is not introduced on time, although one could sense the author’s intention to arouse some suspense. Incidentally, Anna is also prematurely terminated before the end of the story.
The beauty of this voluminous epic is the simplicity of its language and the writer’s thought-pattern, which transcends every age and period in human history. The issues treated such as distribution of wealth among the different social classes, assertion of individuality in the midst of societal norms and the definition of nemesis, are all effectively explored in the novel. What I find particularly interesting and engaging about the book is the clever and uncanny portrayal of the protagonist, Anna Karenina who breaks all societal rules, to assert her true romantic leaning ,still standing firm and tall, never for once losing her charm as a woman, though the society has a way of making her pay for her grievous aberration. Anna’s nemesis for breaking a code of conduct is achieved in an indirect and clever manner; the same romantic exuberance ,which is used to have her way with men is equally deplored for her self-destruct.