Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
Viking, 2001
ISBN: 0-385-33522-9

There aren’t many books that can shout the meaning as does Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina. It’s a book for the young who want to learn the lessons that winning and losing in love bring. This book is for the old, who find themselves searching their life for truth or for meaning in the relationships of their lives. This book is about life, about living, about understanding; this book is about learning to love in spite of it all.
         Reviews are the hardest to write when the is exceptional. As a reviewer, I was certainly reticent to write a review of Anna Karenina; after reading the book, so much still seems impossibly trapped inside. Tolstoy’s story covers every element of storytelling: intrigue, betrayal, happiness, and sorrow, but most of all, Mr. Tolstoy’s book teaches us the pain of love, the chase, and even the fall of chasing this ominous feeling. As anyone knows, these kinds of lessons never age or yellow with time.
         Written in the 1870s, Karenina retains universal appeal because of the strong messages woven within its large spine. This edition by Pevear and Volokhonsky is especially good because it renders Mr. Tolstoy’s Russian more faithfully than earlier ones and presents his characters with an honesty that other translations seem to lack. This translation is one that you could only get from a true Russsian, Volokhonskaya, working with an English-speaking person, Pevear; the result is an edition that honors both languages.
         The story revolves around seven different people in 1870s Russia. Although Anna Karenina lends time to superficial ideas, in the larger limelight, we see Anna Karenina is about the tragic love affair between Anna Karenina and Vronsky. It’s about the rise and fall of the seemingly strong feminine figure. It’s about her apparent weakness for someone she loves; a weakness even the strongest reader can relate to. Alongside the plight of this love affair, is a story equally as strong, the story of a nobleman Konstantine Levin, who has been said to share some of the same beliefs as Tolstoy himself. Konstantine Levin questions the meaning of life, the honesty of hard labor, his own spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. Konstantine even contemplates suicide. But true to the strength of a one of Mr. Tolstoy’s character, Konstantine Levin triumphs, coming up from even the lowest of lows, and finds love in the mild and tender Kitty.
         Anna Karenina is sometimes too sensational, too intricate, too overwhelming with long thought; its unmanageable because of its structure and hard-to-follow dialogue. But stick with it for its human experience; read it for the new outlook on life it will give you, keep it near you for the life lessons it contains. It’s a serendipitous story, a coin with many sides, nothing in it is black and white and the reader spends most of these pages in a state of grayness; a pleasant state of everything and all these lives meshing together. Everything in the book happens the way it is supposed to happen. Each character reaches the appropriate end. And the reader, too, reaches an end along with the book. A road that takes you to someplace better, a road that brings you closer to yourself. The 800 pages of this novel simply melt away and can only be appreciated by readers who are willing to dig and grasp at the many facets of humanity Mr. Tolstoy presents. It’s well worth taking the time to understand everything this author is trying to say.
         This translation is honest; every sentence is meticulously done and every effort is executed thoughtfully. As a result, Mr. Tolstoy’s message goes directly to a reader’s heart. And truthfully, Mr. Tolstoy’s truths are sometimes hard to grasp. There are parts of the novel where Tolstoy has taken the liberty of sharing some of his often-cumbersome beliefs regarding his patriarchal world. But bear with him during these sometimes too long paragraphs and breathless sentences—he’s going somewhere with it. His words don’t bite until sometimes hours later, when the mind begins to quiet. It is then that we see what he was trying to say. It is then that we understand the human inequities he was trying to untwist and untie for us. It seems strange to still be trying to figure out the story long after the book is put down because books while often memorable, seem to stay within their meaning inside the pages. Mr. Tolstoy reminds us that human flaws as well as triumphs—the true ones, always stay the same throughout time.