By Ahmed Latif
Anna Karenina is a literary masterpiece written by Russian master-writer Leo Tolstoy. It first appeared in instalments from 1873 to 1877 in the magazine The Russian Messenger. However, due to political disagreements between the magazine editors and Tolstoy, the complete Anna Karenina did not appear until 1878 in novel form. Critics and readers alike regard it as one of the finest novels ever written. It is a work so refined and perfected that another Russian master-writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, called it a flawless work of art.
As a novel, it defies logic. It is long but never tedious. It is detailed but never pedantic. It is as nuanced as humanity and as simplistic as a timeless truth. Linguistically it is stunning. The language that permeates the novel is so elegant that each line constitutes a rebellion against the placid nature of words. The novel reads like a manifesto that empowers a delicate understanding of love and engenders new words that cause the language to be fearless and upright. But all of that aside, I have my own reasons for why I love all 800+ pages in most copies, 1200+ in my burgundy-bound copy.
To me Anna Karenina is about the story. It is about the wrongs we accept in ourselves and the rights we demand from others. It is about the true cost of principle and the true value of love; and all different kinds of love. The story may set in 19th century Tsarist Russia but I never felt out of place. I related to every character and I never felt limited to relating only to the male characters or only the young characters. I related to every character in some meaningful way; I formed a true connection with all of them, flaws and all. This connection has left an indelible mark on my soul. I now long to understand the world as I understood those characters, in such familiar yet expansive terms. I now see love as this emancipation, not from our troubles, but from time; and in the greatest of bittersweet ironies, that love is only chained by time.
I love Vronsky, Levin, Stiva, Kitty, Dolly, and of course Anna herself. I see in them and in this story more humanity than anything in the literary realm. The words are not bound to the paper as they are tattooed to your very soul. I have read Anna Karenina multiple times and I still yell out loud in reaction to the character’s actions. This story truly possesses an unlimited magic that it perspires on us and we are the better for it. Tolstoy, like Hemingway and Chekhov, held great regard for the truth. And in this work of fiction there is nothing but the truth.