I just started reading Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It’s been about two weeks, and I’ve just finished Part One. I honestly don’t know what the whole story’s about (that’s my preferred way to read classics – or any book, really – I never really extensively research about the storyline, themes, characters, etc beforehand) so I’m just talking about Part One here.
Anna Karenina is a book that I’ve been putting off reading for many years now. Almost ten years, actually, because I got my copy in 2007. I only know that because it was a prize I got from high school: I got a voucher for a book store, and, with my sister’s help/guidance, I chose Anna Karenina, among other books.
Well, I mostly chose it because my sister wanted to read it (but she hasn’t gotten around to it either). Sure, I wanted to read it too (if only because I knew it was a classic, because I recognised Tolstoy’s name, and/or because I developed an affinity for large tomes almost as soon as I started reading books without pictures) but it was never a huge priority on my TBR list.
I’m not sure when it started making its way up the TBR ladder, but I suppose it must’ve been helped along by other people: a friend would tell me they’d read and loved it, I’d come across a blog post about it, or maybe it popped up somewhere as a recommended novel based on other novels I’d read. There was also, of course, the very presence of the book (albeit, for the most part of my ownership of it, in a box by my desk). Perhaps it had a gravity all of its own, but I couldn’t, with clear conscience, neglect it forever.
But, even with what limited knowledge I had of the novel or its author, I did know it was originally written in Russian. I knew all the characters would (probably) be Russian, and would have very unfamiliar Russian names. And a book that big would surely have a lot of characters, right? All of this made me quite hesitant to open it up and start reading.
At the start of last year – or perhaps it was the end of 2015 – I resolutely decided that I would, at long last, read Anna Karenina, along with a handful of other classics I’d always intended to read “eventually”. However, I prioritised David Copperfield because Charles Dickens is undoubtedly my favourite author, and it seemed almost a tragedy (or perhaps a joke) to claim to be a Dickens fan, yet to have never read David Copperfield. After finishing this profoundly brilliant novel, life happened (as it often does), and an array of other profoundly brilliant novels presented themselves. As it was, 2016 would not be the year to read Anna Karenina.
Being the adaptable human being I am (sometimes), I altered my reading goal: I’d aim to read one – just one – large novel/classic per year. Last year was David Copperfield, and this year, I was determined, would be Anna Karenina. And yet, I somehow got through half a year, always intending to pick it up, and always being pulled away by another book (or, you know, life happening).
But I’ve started it now, and, with five months left in the year, I’m sure I can finish it before 2018 shows itself on the temporal horizon (although I do feel like it’ll come around before I know it).
And all the concern I had with the Russian names and many characters…?
Well, yes, there are a lot of characters and stories that combine in this novel – so much so that I’m a little unsure about why the book is named Anna Karenina and not named for any of the other characters (Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky, Darya Alexandrovna, Konstantin Dmitrich Levin, Kitty Shcherbatsky, Vronsky – just to name a few) – but I haven’t had nearly as much difficulty as I was expecting.
I am thoroughly enjoying Anna Karenina so far, and I’m actually caught between wanting to read and absorb it as quickly as I can (ravenously, even), and wanting to prolong the experience so as to savour it for as long as possible. That, I think, is an amazing feeling.