Review: Anna Karenina

As promised, I’m starting to share my thoughts and learnings from some of the greatest writers of all times. I started with Leo Tolstoy and one of his major books, Anna Karenina.

It was my first time reading Russian literature, so it was very different from what I read on a day to day basis. It started easy, but eventually, my reading started turning more into a crawl.

There were parts I went through relatively fast, in others it was like walking on slush. I felt the changes of speed had more to do with the topic he was covering than anything else.

I loved Anna’s plot, while Levin’s plot was harder to follow due to the rhythm of the story and some extensive descriptions. It reminds me of Tolkien in some aspects. The Ent forest did come to my mind a couple of times.

Another reason it took me so long was that I read every page twice. Some of the literary artifacts he employs were so profound and meaningful; I wanted to capture them in full. So I read it once, and then backtracked and did a second scan to savor the rich metaphors, dialogs, and meaning.

A defining element of Tolstoy’s writing is the constant use of conjunctions, to stack idea after idea after idea. This makes his phrases pretty long. Some of his phrases are some of the longest sentences in the history of literature.

The prose is beautiful, but the one thing that stood out for me was the multilayered structure of the story. Tolstoy’s writing stacks layer after layer of knowledge without sounding pedantic. It’s remarkable.

Within the book you can find, not only historical references but political, religious, scientific or philosophical ones. He sprinkles each paragraph with a little of each, building up a multidimensional view of reality that’s envious.

All this, on top of an incredible depth of understanding of human psychology. This, more than anything, was what struck me as amazing.

His capacity to describe the inner world of women, men, upper class, lower class, peasants, artists or writers, is uncanny. He does it by digging deep into each protagonist’s physique.

The dialogs with others and the omniscient voice that narrates each character’s fears, feelings and thoughts, give a 360 vision of each soul. The back and forth between external dialogs and internal thoughts adds one more layer to the complex structure of the book.

All these resources manage to pull you into Tolstoy’s world, into Anna’s reality, into Russian society. The vivid descriptions, human-like characters, and deep metaphors make the story as real as it gets. I could feel myself nodding more than once. Amazed at Tolstoy’s genius for transporting me into such society but still making it feel contemporary.

Anna Karenina is, by far, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Its depth and complexity are astounding. It all seems to come together effortlessly, without being rough or unnecessary. As with any great story, the artifacts are there, but like breathing, you don’t see them except if you’re looking for them.

Chief Editor at The Aleph Report (@thealeph_report), CEO at Press42.com, Cofounder & associated editor @tech_eu, former editor @KernelMag.