December Classics Club Meme Question

Friday, December 6, 2013

What is your favorite classic book?

The Classics Club originally asked this question in August 2012 and my answer was Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. I thought for this question I’d pick another one of my favorites. I’m going to venture into Russian territory for this one for two reasons.

1) I think that Russian lit is incredibly intimidating for some people (it was for me!)

2) I read this book before I started blogging and so I’ve never written about it on the blog.  

So the book in question… Anna Karenina. This one was an unexpected delight for me. I was expecting a melodramatic romance and lots of “woe is me” bits. Instead I found a novel that delved into personal happiness vs. social expectations, religion, and Russian culture.

The booked is packed with interesting characters, only one of which is mentioned in the title. Anna might be the headliner, but she’s certainly not the only act. The book really parallels the lives and journeys of two characters, Anna and Levin. At the beginning of the book Anna is optimistic. She travels to visit her family to help her brother put his marriage back together. By the end of the book her life has been thrown upside down and she loses her faith.

Levin on the other hand is awkward and pessimistic. He’s in love, but has no idea how to go about wooing the woman he’s interested in. Throughout the book he finds solace in hard labor. Through his struggles and trails he finds his faith. He learns the meaning of true love and understands the difference a good woman makes to his life. Both characters seem to do a complete 180 by the end of the novel.

There is so much more that I’m not even touching on. Tolstoy deals with the social customs at the time, the ease at which people can be welcomed or shunned from society and the rights women didn’t have during that time period, etc. He makes the reader consider the difference between momentary bliss and the sometimes sedate, but long-lasting joy of family, but at the same time he never makes it feel like a preachy cautionary tale.

If you’re thinking about trying Tolstoy I would highly recommend starting here. There are fewer major characters than there are in War and Peace and the plot is easier to follow.

Join in the fun here


o said...

I didn't have much success when I first read Anna Karenina, but I do remember really liking Levin. Which translation did you right? Perhaps that might be my problem. I do want to re-read it.

And I LOVED Travels With Charley :)

Anonymous said...

Anna Karenina was the first book I read from my classics list. I also assumed it would be melodramatic with violins playing in the background, so imagine my surprise when I actually had to do a lot of "thinking" about the story. Levin ended up being my favourite character. I haven't tackled any other Tolstoy books or Russian literature, but there a few on my list. I'm just waiting for the right moment. :)

JoAnn said...

I loved Anna Karenina, too… almost as much as Travels with Charley ;-)

Anonymous said...

I love AK, too - I should really do a reread one of these days.

Cleo said...

I read Anna Karenina last year and loved it too. Levin was a wonderful character and, I've heard, modelled on Tolstoy himself.

I read the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation and found it so-so. I'd try a different one next time.

Christina said...

I read Anna Karenina 20+ years ago in college and hated it so much. It took me a year to read the last 40 pages of the book because I was so angry with the way it was ending.

Andi said...

One of the things I want to do in t he new year is read more Russian classics since I've read nothing but Nabokov. Ever. I was leaning toward this one since it's often compared to Madame Flaubert, and I'm tickled to see that you loved it!

Ruth @ with freedom and books said...

Anna Karenina is a runner up for me. I loved the character of Levin and his transformation. It was just lovely.

Constance Garnett was the translator I read, and it was enjoyable. (I also read Crime and Punishment with Garnett as translator and liked it very much). But supposedly there is another translation that is even better than Garnett.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

o - I read the Garnett translation. I can't compare it to another, but I thought it was good.

ebookclassics - I think you absolutely have to be in the mood for Russian lit!

JoAnn - Travels with Charley definitely wins for me, but they're both great!

Carrie - I was thinking the same thing!

cleopatra - I read the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace and it was so good! I can't compare it with other translations though because I've only read it once.

Christina - Ha, that's rough! Some books just don't ever click.

Andi - Lolita is a great place to start with Nabokov!

Ruth - I believe my translation was by Garnett as well. I thought it was well done.

Brona said...

I also read AK pre-blogging days, & I loved it so much (and I think there was a good BBC production doing the rounds at that time too).

I would love to reread it one day.

One curious thing I've noticed is that I tend to read the Russians during my summer hols - partly because during my teaching years that was when I had a nice big block of time to tackle them. But I also love reading about cold climate dramas on a hot summer's day :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brona Joy - Isn't it funny how we tend towards certain types of books at certain times. I tend to read big fat Dickens novels in the dead of winter for some reason.