Anna Karenina. Don’t think this:
In fact, don’t even think Kiera Knightly. Anna is meant to be voluptuous.
But that’s beside the point. It’s not a even a novel about Anna. The character Tolstoy has you love the most is Konstantin Dmitrich Levin; the gruff, yet lovable land owner whose mind you are privvy to.
Anna Karenina is two parrallel narratives of love between a man and a woman. One, a downwards, hellish spiral into self absorption and destruction, the other, a soaring transformation.
If you’re thinking Anna Karenina is some girlish love story or some sexy romance that Tolstoy wrote as concession, allow me to help you to unthink that.
Just as War and Peace is an epic through time and space, Anna Karenina is an epic through idea and thought. The conversations range from philosophy to art to politics to sociology to theology to even farming, with depth of insight that resonate even with the modern reader. Tolstoy also manages to deeply empathise with a range of people unlike himself, as he penetrates their thought lives with such understanding you would not believe he had never been there himself. (I can’t find the appropriate quote to entice you here, you’ll just have to read the novel yourself to find one!)
Unlike so much contemporary (or even older) literature about adultery and forbidden love, Anna Karenina does not paint the relationship between Anna and her lover, Vronksy as salacious and sexy. Rather than a man and a woman flourishing in marriage, you get to see two people implode into dusty ashes (cf Gollum, who followed his passion to its pitiful end). It’s refreshing that Tolstoy tells the hurt and destruction. But not in a moralistic, preachy way. In an awesome way. Like this:
He soon felt that the fulfillment of his desires gave him only one grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. This fulfillment showed him the eternal error men make in imagining that their happiness depends on the realization of their desires.