Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Book Four - Anna Karenina - Part Six

Leo & Sonya Tolstoy
Image from The American Society of Authors & Writers

I've finished Anna Karenina: Drama Queen.

Here's an imaginary conversation between Tolstoy and his wife--

Tolstoy: I want to write a book about a ‘fallen’ rich woman that people pity.

Mrs. Tolstoy: Good luck with that, Leo.

Tolstoy: Which part, the rich or the fallen?

Mrs. Tolstoy: Both. Most people in this world are not rich and couldn’t relate to her problems. Then you add the fact that she brought these problems on herself? Can’t see it working.

Tolstoy: But my dear, I am sure the book will sell. After all, the people in high society buy most of the books in this country.

Mrs. Tolstoy: Ah, so it’s a marketing strategy. You are good.

Tolstoy: But my motives are pure! I must tell a moral tale.

Mrs. Tolstoy: So, basically, there’s no way things are going to go well for this fallen rich woman.

Tolstoy: No chance, no way, no how. But it will provide an opportunity to expound upon many of my theories.

Mrs. Tolstoy: Dude, people who read novels want a story. They do not want to read a bunch of philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

Tolstoy: But I have spent months and months reading the philosophy and I must share my insights with others! I must also share my sympathetic tendencies towards the peasants! These ideas are burning within me!

Mrs. Tolstoy: You just never really got that whole moderation thing, did you?

(In this imaginary dramatization, the part of Mrs. Tolstoy was played by Hurley on LOST.)

Anna, sweetie, I believe Mr. Tolstoy used you to illustrate that at some point in life you've got to own up to the consequences of your choices. We all do. As I was nearing the book’s end, I thought of the song "Babylon" by David Gray.

Looking back through time
You know it's clear that I've been blind
I've been a fool
To open up my heart
To all that jealousy, that bitterness, that ridicule
... You know I'm seeing it so clear
I've been afraid
To show you how I really feel
Admit to some of those bad mistakes I've made
History repeats itself because there are no new mistakes. Oh, and because humans are so good at rationalization. Anna Karenina is an example of excellence in both rationalization and delusion, particularly the obsessive type of delusion, the type that starts with denial and moves along the irrational obsessive path until it is a fireball of anxiety and resentment and want, and even though you know it’s irrational you feel powerless to stop the cycle. Not that I can relate.

Tolstoy also makes a statement on the value of work, the good hard work of tilling the soil and harvesting the crops. Other work is valued as well, whereas not having enough to do leads to people filling their time with meaningless activities in an attempt to give their lives meaning. He’s real good with the saying stuff without saying it, is Tolstoy, but there are plenty of times he simply expounds upon one of his pet theories. Apparently he felt the need to teach us a thing or twelve.

This novel is an extravaganza of interconnected people. Maybe one reason there are so many characters in this book is to provide contrast. For every character making progress on his journey to self-awareness/spiritual enlightenment there is another who happily remains clueless. This book is jam-packed... politics, spirituality, religion, morality, love, hate, indifference, the intelligentsia, sincerity, hypocrisy, dishonesty, honor, bribery, delusion, sacrifice, war, pacifism... in short, all the ingredients of a society.

I really needed a flowchart to keep up with the characters, but that is frequently the case with Russian names since each name also has a nickname and sometimes the nicknames don’t look much like the full name. My boy Levin is Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin and his nickname is Kostya. That one’s not too difficult, but his brother Sergius Ivanovitch Koznyshev is sometimes called Koznyshev and sometimes Sergey, and sometimes Sergey Ivanovitch. That’s all well and good until you have to start remembering dozens of people by their various names. Sometimes the characters were so well defined that I could tell who was speaking simply by the context, but that wasn’t always so with the minor characters.

And what about Levin? I won’t say what happens to him because this is a spoiler-free zone, but I will say that he started getting on my nerves during the last half of the book, and I fairly screamed at him to get some perspective already! But Tolstoy definitely wants the reader to love Levin, and I do.

Reading is such a personal thing that books affect us differently. Rereading a book can also affect an individual differently when read at another point along life's timeline. This passage in Part 7 Chapter 4 rang true to me--

… when we were brought up there was one extreme--we were kept in the basement, while our parents lived in the best rooms; now it's just the other way--the parents are in the wash house, while the children are in the best rooms. Parents now are not expected to live at all, but to exist altogether for their children.
Ah, the cycles of humanity. We are determined not to make the mistakes of our parents so we go to the opposite extreme and wind up making the mistakes of our grandparents, doing the very things our parents tried to avoid.

I need a break from all this angst!


  1. I love your blog! I am now a new follower and I'm sure we'll have several books in common as we plow through our respective lists!

    I HEARTED "Anna Karenina" when I read it three years ago. I loved the Russian storyline enough to read Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" right afterwards, and loved it, too.

  2. Thanks! I was so excited to find your blog today! I agree that our journeys will be quite similar. It'll be fun to compare notes on the books we have in common... maybe we can even read them at the same time!