Review: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Review: Anna Karenina, Leo TolstoyAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky
Narrator: Miranda Pleasence
Published by Penguin Books ISBN: 0140449175
on January 30, 2003
Genres: Classic
Pages: 852
Length: 36 hours 59 minutes
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Audible
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five-stars

"Everything is finished. I have nothing but you now. Remember that."

Anna Karenina seems to have everything—beauty, wealth, popularity, and an adored son. But she feels that her life is empty until the moment she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike and soon brings jealously and bitterness in its wake. Contrasting with this tale of love and self-destruction is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life—and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.

I have tried to read this book several times and not been able to get very far. I think my problem was the translation. On a fellow English teacher’s recommendation, I sought out the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, and it was so wonderful that now I’m rethinking my experience with Crime and Punishment—perhaps I should try that book again with the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation?

Anna Karenina was (when I finally read it) one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. If I had one quibble, I’d say it’s mistitled. To me, this book is really Levin’s story. He is the character around which all the storylines revolve. He was my favorite character and also the most interesting psychologically. I loved the passage near the beginning when he sees Kitty skating, and Tolstoy writes, “He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.” I mean… Damn. It was nearly 37 hours long, and I would have listened to more. Tolstoy just understands people. I haven’t seen the like in anything else I’ve read, excepting maybe Shakespeare and Toni Morrison. In fact, it would not surprise me to learn that Toni Morrison liked Tolstoy (I need to read more of her nonfiction). In spite of the massive length of his books, reading this made me want to read more. I’ll be sure to read Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations, no matter what, because I was really impressed with their work. Obviously, I don’t know Russian, but what I appreciated was the readability. I have had so much trouble reading books translated from the Russian in the past.

I read that Larissa Volokhonsky essentially translates Russian texts word-for-word, and Richard Pevear then finesses the translation so it sounds better in English. It struck me as kind of a smart approach. Translation is definitely an art. One thing I often did when I taught Beowulf was to ask students to compare several different versions of the same passage to see what they liked and disliked about each one. This translation of Anna Karenina was the one selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club, and it catapulted Pevear and Volokhonsky into the limelight.

As to the novel itself, setting aside the translation, it seems to capture so much about the human condition: yearning and love, double standards for men and women, parenting and families (that opening line, of course). I got the sense that each character in the novel, no matter how minor, was walking into the novel from a novel of their own. They were all so incredibly real. I almost didn’t feel like I was reading a book. It’s hard to explain, but reading this book was more like listening to the stories of friends. It was just… incredible. A new favorite.

five-stars
WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays: December 7, 2011

WWW WednesdaysTo play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Wow, I haven’t played along with WWW Wednesdays in a long time.

I am currently reading several books. The main one is [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link] by Stephen King. I have seen the movie, and I thought Kathy Bates was brilliant in the role of Annie Wilkes. I had never read the book, and I admit that reading King’s memoir [amazon_link id=”1439156816″ target=”_blank” ]On Writing[/amazon_link] is what prompted me to finally pick it up. I am enjoying it a hell of a lot. I’m also still dipping into [amazon_link id=”1439170916″ target=”_blank” ]The Emperor of All Maladies[/amazon_link] by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I can totally see why it won the Pulitzer for nonfiction. It’s not just an interesting subject; it’s well written. I tried reading [amazon_link id=”1613821530″ target=”_blank” ]Anna Karenina[/amazon_link] on DailyLit, but I finally had to admit I wasn’t into it when I had a huge backlog of unread book installments and no desire to even open them. I have to just say it: I’m not into the Russians. I have tried them and tried them, several times, and I have given them a fair shake. I think it’s time to give up trying to be cultured. I picked up [amazon_link id=”1466210303″ target=”_blank” ]Madame Bovary[/amazon_link] instead, and while it hasn’t grabbed me yet, I will give it more than two installments. I guess I’m also still reading [amazon_link id=”074348486X” target=”_blank” ]As You Like It[/amazon_link] when I think about it.

I recently finished a re-read of [amazon_link id=”9626343613″ target=”_blank” ]Sense and Sensibility[/amazon_link] read by Juliet Stevenson. I highly recommend her Naxos audio book readings of Austen’s works. I think the only one she didn’t record for them was [amazon_link id=”9626343567″ target=”_blank” ]Pride and Prejudice[/amazon_link]. Stevenson is a brilliant reader. I also recently finished [amazon_link id=”0142411841″ target=”_blank” ]Twisted[/amazon_link] by Laurie Halse Anderson, who consistently writes amazing books for teens that are straight out of the Judy Blume School of writing about what young people are really like and what they care about. I discovered that Laurie Halse Anderson creates playlists for her books, so given that I love creating Spotify lists, I went ahead and put her playlists in Spotify (at least all the songs that were available). Here is her playlist for Twisted. Naturally, you need to have Spotify to listen. Here are my reviews for Sense and Sensibility and Twisted.

The next book I read will be either Sherman Alexie’s [amazon_link id=”0316068209″ target=”_blank” ]The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian[/amazon_link], John Green’s [amazon_link id=”0142402516″ target=”_blank” ]Looking for Alaska[/amazon_link], or Laurie Halse Anderson’s [amazon_link id=”0142400017″ target=”_blank” ]Catalyst[/amazon_link]. I am in a YA mood right now (probably because I just went to NCTE). I also really, really want to read [amazon_link id=”0062024027″ target=”_blank” ]Divergent[/amazon_link] by Veronica Roth soon, but I don’t have it, and neither does my school library. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was recently challenged here in my home state of Georgia. My daughter, however, says I should start with Looking for Alaska, but that I’d better be prepared to cry. I think I will probably read that one first just because she wants me to and so we can talk about it.

So, what are you reading?

Sunday Salon—October 16, 2011

:: آخر لقانا في الخريف..تذكّر الثوب الخفيف ::

It’s been pretty and cool today. Perfect tea weather. I finished up reading [amazon_link id=”1466273089″ target=”_blank” ]The Man with Two Left Feet[/amazon_link] by P. G. Wodehouse via DailyLit last night (review). I started up with [amazon_link id=”1439169462″ target=”_blank” ]Anna Karenina[/amazon_link] by Leo Tolstoy. I’m not going to be able to finish it for the read-a-long at Unputdownables, but it seems like an appropriate time to finally read. Come on Russians: don’t disappoint me this time. Anna Karenina is yet another classic I’m not sure I’d pick up if not for DailyLit.

I’m still reading [amazon_link id=”0385534639″ target=”_blank” ]The Night Circus[/amazon_link] by Erin Morgenstern. You might recall my daughter and I were arguing over it. My daughter won, mainly because I downloaded the iBook sample that Starbucks provided as their first e-book Pick of the Week. I was able to read up to about page 91, so it’s a pretty substantial sample. If you can’t tell that far in whether to continue or not, then the sample size just doesn’t matter.

I’m still listening to Juliet Stevenson’s recording of [amazon_link id=”9626343613″ target=”_blank” ]Sense and Sensibility[/amazon_link] by Jane Austen. My poll results indicate that both of the two people who voted think I should read [amazon_link id=”140222267X” target=”_blank” ]Willoughby’s Return[/amazon_link] by Jane Odiwe for my other book for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. Only problem is I don’t have it. Yet. The wait list for it on PaperBackSwap is long, too.

This Sunday I also watched the final episode of season 3 of [amazon_link id=”B001AQR3LC” target=”_blank” ]The Tudors[/amazon_link]. Did they ever cast a perfect vapid teenager for Catherine Howard, or what? I find it hard to believe Joss Stone as a “Flanders mare,” though.

I’ve been listening to this Austin City Limits playlist (Facebook app) that’s available for free on iTunes. It’s a great playlist. My favorites are “You Are Not Alone” by Mavis Staples, “Devil Knows You’re Dead” by Delta Spirit, “Don’t Gotta Work it Out” by Fitz and the Tantrums, and “Lost in My Mind” by The Head and the Heart. I have say that “WHALE” by Yellow Ostrich is pretty catchy once it gets going, though I thought it was kind of odd at the start. I’ve actually been listening to Spotify quite a bit and made this playlist full of great women artists.

We saw [amazon_link id=”B00275EHJG” target=”_blank” ]Toy Story 3[/amazon_link] at movie night at my kids’ school on Friday. Dylan was especially entranced. My favorite comment? When Dylan said Ken’s hair looked like Justin Bieber’s. He so rarely makes references to pop culture, and we don’t often get such a window into what he’s thinking. Saturday was the Taste of Roswell in the town square. We ate lots of great food, and the weather was gorgeous. The music was too loud. I think I’d be just as happy if the organizers left music out of the event altogether. Last night I stayed up too late watching [amazon_link id=”B000UJCALI” target=”_blank” ]The Shining[/amazon_link], which was dumb because that movie scares the bejesus out of me, and then I was the only one awake and scared in the dark. All told, we’ve had a great weekend. I’m not ready for it to be over. Unfortunately, today means laundry and getting ready for the week ahead. It’s my last short week due to Jewish holidays, but I’m going to a conference on Tuesday and Wednesday that I’m not thrilled about attending.

photo credit: » Zitona «