Books That Haunt: Anna Karenina

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series.

“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With probably one of the most loaded first lines of any novel ever written, Leo Tolstoy begins his epic Anna Karenina. This beginning sets the stage for the underlying current of the novel: relationships. Anna Karenina is book about relationships. I would even go so far as to say that it is a more comprehensive “relationship book” than most of the books in the relationship section of your bookstore. Tolstoy deals with relationships good and bad; mediocre and impossible; familial, romantic, social, and spiritual.

Tolstoy explores the horizontal connections we have, and the effects that those relationships have on us, both good and bad. The development of the plot is slow and intricate, much like real life relationships. This formula has the potential for some severe boredom, but Tolstoy saves the novel from that end by making us feel the anger, suspicion, wrath, or confusion that each character faces.

The story centers around two characters that are vaguely connected: Anna Karenina, who begins an extra-marital affair, and Constantin Levin, who is trying to find his way in life. One story shows us the dramatic effects that sin has upon our relationships, and the other shows us the costs and benefits that love has upon our lives.

What is most brilliant about the novel is the method in which Tolstoy portrays landmark occurrences in the relationship spectrum. Deaths, births, weddings, proposals, hunting trips with the boys and social engagements with the ladies are all depicted with a real sense of real clarity. Tolstoy really knows what is going on behind the scenes in the hearts of each of his characters. It is in this way that Leo Tolstoy burns the characters into the reader’s mind, and drives his lesson into our consciousness.