I sometimes worry that some people are put off by books that are labelled “old” or “Classic”, and that literature from another culture, written in a different language, drives people away. For all those who dread “foreign classics” I would urge you to start your journey with Anna Karenina.
This book is as contemporary in theme, action and characterisation as any literature or film produced today. It is seemingly matchless in sexual enterprise and the ensuing complications of heart and head. Tolstoy paints vivid, beautiful pictures of 19th Century Russia. The underlying tensions of a swiftly changing society are borne intensely from the story in a way which historical analyses of the time would find it hard to match.
In its swift action, and perpetual narrative apices, Tolstoy also finds a wonderful stillness; the snow falling in Moscow, the rumination following an unfaithful tryst etc. It’s in these quiet moments that I could catch my breath, and assimilate the emotional maelstrom swirling around our characters.
This novel is about the complexity of life lived with changing social norms, it articulates the interplay of emotions developed between the public and private self. It speaks to all of us who have wrangled with love, fear, rejection, desire and all of their connected confusions.
Finally, it drew me ever closer into a fascination with Russian culture, literature and history. This is a tale to which I will certainly return, and relish the prospect of doing so.