Anna Karenina Book Review

A cautionary tale that contrasts a relationship gone to hell and a relationship bloomed to life.

The last two nights have been a roller coaster of emotions both in Russia and in Fargo, ND. I finished reading Anna Karenina which involved the last two parts of the book. I topped off the night holding my newborn son near candlelight with a cup of hot cinnamon spice tea, and of course potato chips, big sour chewy nerds, and a grapefruit sparkling water. Weird choices? It was a delight to the senses.

To write a book this big and not even as big as War and Peace, he must have something to say. And he does. And it’s brilliant. The writing is exquisite. The story is awfully sad, and yet hopeful and happy. He is so detailed and knows how to peel the onion of someone’s mind. He shows the devastating effects of adultery and lust, and how sin ultimately leads to death.

The fact that the book is about an affair, I wonder if many people think it’s just some steamy romance like most modern day stories where they want to glory in the affair, the sin, the darkness. Not this story. And Tolstoy packs a punch making you observe your own life and your own desires. Tolstoy shows how sin curses you, entices you into a whore’s house, and poisons you with death.

And all the while he interweaves a beautiful narrative that is rich, deep, and filled with a loving relationship that isn’t perfect, but is being transformed and changed into something glorious.

I was really surprised by the questions he posed to the reader through one character. Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? What am I living for? Reason vs. romance. Intellect vs. revelation. Working vs gifting. Vanity vs. meaning. And he wonderfully attempts (and I believe succeeds) in answering many of these questions.

Tolstoy offers us two pictures and two paths. The way of misery or the way of happiness. The way of death or the way of life.

I’ve heard this book is used in counseling marriages, and I don’t doubt it. It should be. This book may be a mirror for some and a life saver for others. Do you want to enter a rich and beautiful world filled with longing and suffering, hope and agony, joy and sadness? Do you want to be delighted and taught through a profound story that paints the good, true, and beautiful? I heartily recommend you read, Anna Karenina.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book:

“in former days the free-thinker was a man who had been brought up in ideas of religion, law, and morality, and only through conflict and struggle came to free-thought; but now there has sprung up a new type of born free-thinkers who grow up without even having heard of principles of morality or of religion, of the existence of authorities, who grow up directly in ideas of negation in everything, that is to say, savages…And he turned to what seemed to him the very source of culture–the magazines. In old times, you see, a man who wanted to educate himself–a Frenchman, for instance–would have set to work to study all the classics and theologians and tragedians and historians and philosophers, and, you know, all the intellectual work that came in the way…but now he comes at once upon a literature in which the old creeds do not even furnish matter for discussion, but it is stated baldly that there is nothing else–evolution, natural selection, struggle for existence–and that’s all.”

Pride & Prejudice

My wife and I watched Pride & Prejudice (2005) over Valentine’s Day weekend. Entering that world and story was so refreshing, it left me feeling happy, inspired, and challenged.

The setting, story, music, filming, and atmosphere of the film was beautiful. I marvel at the excellence that was achieved.

I’ve seen the film multiple times, and there is something about it that reminds me how lovely this world is and how good slowness is. Let me explain.

We live in a culture of speed and instant gratification. Speed can be good, but you then have to ask, “at what cost?” For many people it’s hard to sit still. We are constantly distracted, and we’ve lost a lot of reality–what is right in front us. We like to be connected but do we ever connect?

So when I read about another time period, I’m often inspired or challenged to a different way of living. Pride & Prejudice asks, when was the last time you…

walked instead of drove,
read instead of scrolled,
feasted instead of fast-fooded,
lit candles instead of flicking a switch,
actively listened to music instead of passively hearing music,
and wrote instead of typed?

I’m not saying their time period was perfect. It wasn’t. And there is a lot that wasn’t desirable. But we have lost a lot on the wonder of life, enjoying the present, and pursuing the more difficult pleasures. This instant gratification culture isn’t satisfying. Just look at the depression and anxiety rates skyrocketing.

Maybe I’m a bit old fashioned and I’m not saying we need to pretend we are in the 1800 or 1900’s, but I am saying we have a lot to learn from old practices and lifestyles.

I’m convinced our lives can be more full, richer, and filled with more beauty than we realize.

And don’t get me started on the last scene with Mr. Bingley and Jane as well as the last scene with Elizabeth and her father. It’s lovely. The happiness in this story is contagious.

If you are someone who isn’t into these wonderful stories filled with romance and love, maybe you should check your prejudice of the story and get over your pride. You might be surprised.

PS – Here you can get a lovely cloth-bound book of Pride & Prejudice. I heartily recommend reading the book as their is so much depth of beauty and truth. It is a joy to read.

Below you can see the trailer.