Russian writers have a knack for pushing their depression and insanity onto their audience.
Almost every Russian novel follows the same formula. The beginning of the book introduces the characters and you like them. They usually throw in a dramatic tidbit like a murder or a vision, then go on for the next 400 pages discussing Russian society and tea times gone horribly wrong. At this point you want to put the book down. You do, until three months later, you see the book gathering dust and you realize that you really do care about the character. You fight through the next two hundred pages and when you are done, you breathe a sigh of relief and realize as you drop the six pound book, that it was the greatest insight to human nature that you have ever read.
Leo Tolstoy created one of the most tragic tales of love. It sneaks up on you. You don’t want to care about these selfish, petty people, but you realize that you are just looking at a mirror. Anna’s love affair with Count Vronsky challenges the wealthy Russian society of the late 1800’s. She chooses love over comfort and fortune, a life of ridicule and not being cast aside, but rather, mocked by the women of high society.
Her foil, Konstantin Levin, wishes for nothing more than a simple life, in some ways, accepting the old Russian ways of farming and raising a family. He soon realizes that living what used to be an ideal life brings no happiness in his modern times. He had his taste of society and of Kitty Oblonsky, a young society woman in St. Petersburg.
This book has an ominous tone, because at the beginning of the book there is a vision of a man with a shovel and a woman being hit by a train. Through the entire novel, Tolstoy will keep you wondering, who is the woman and why is this crucial? He teases you with bouts of depression, anger and sadness, and of loss. It will get you through the 400 pages of droll tea parties and social gatherings with middle-aged women speaking French and gossiping.
Tolstoy projects a bit of himself onto Levin, showing his struggles with being stuck between an old world of religion and family life and the dawning of a new era, where women do what they want, the family unit is crumbling, and religion belongs to the corrupt.
These characters often times seem weak and selfish, but they are fighting against society’s promise of happiness that has lost its allure and they must find their own way. Anna and Levin are honest and true and show us that we need to look into ourselves and beyond what we have been told to find our way. And that love will give you great joys you’ve never known and it will break your heart. Put nothing on a pedestal, because even the greatest statue can fall. Or get crushed by a train.