Even without the incentive of the upcoming movie based on Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s sweeping classic, Anna Karenina, our current SAS Book Club book, is a must-read. Although it was first published in 1878, the sad but riveting story of Anna Karenina and her love affair with cavalry officer Count Vronsky feels surprisingly modern. Tolstoy’s book offers many important lessons about love, commitment, selfishness, selflessness, revenge, forgiveness and duty. In an age where divorce was a scandal, Anna learns that her private affairs fall into the public domain. Anna Karenina’s agonising conflict—her heart-wrenching decision of whether she will sacrifice her marriage, which provides her security and status, for a fleeting chance at happiness and independence from society’s stifling rules—creates a gripping read.
At every turn of the novel, Tolstoy forces the reader to consider what is more important in life: personal happiness for our own selfish gains or personal sacrifice for the sake of family and society.
Do any of the decisions we make which solely benefit ourselves bring any semblance of happiness? Can any true sense of happiness come from knowing that we have sacrificed our own happiness for the sake of others? There is much to ponder in Anna Karenina.Tolstoy masterfully presents Anna’s personality as many sides of a prism absorbing or reflecting the light.
When we first see Anna she commands our attention as a kind, strong, confident, giving, alluring woman who ironically is placed in the position of saving her brother’s marriage after his wife catches him having yet another affair. Tolstoy’s brilliance as a writer becomes evident as he develops the character of Anna, turning her into a crying, pathetic, clinging, paranoid lover who questions all the decisions she has made.
Over time, it becomes difficult to figure out where we stand as readers following Anna’s story. If you’re like me, you vacillate between sympathy or even caring about her plight to disgust at her inability to trust her instincts and boldly accept her decisions. She is at one turn tragic and the other, pathetic. It becomes difficult to sympathise with Anna as she tears her own life apart yet it is impossible to drag yourself away from her story or abandon her to her own fate. That’s because we recognise Anna’s plight in our own lives as we make difficult, unpopular decisions that involve other people in our lives. Anna Karenina is a timeless classic because Anna is an unforgettable character precisely because of her flaws. What do you think of Anna? Do you sympathise with her or do you think she caused her own problems? Has anything changed for women today, or do women still suffer more than men as they did in Anna’s time when they decided to abandon their families?
Join us on Facebook in the SAS Book Club group to talk about Anna Karenina.
Note to readers: Don’t forget to get your copy of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, our next SAS Book Club book in October.