Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoj

Anna Karenin is stuck in a loveless marriage with the much older Alexei. When she meets Count Vronsky (also named Alexei) at a ball, she falls head over heels in love with him. And he with her. This is unfortunate for Princess Kitty, as she had just refused a proposal from landowner Levin because she had a crush on Vronsky. Anna’s affair will become a much debated subject in Russian society for some time to come.

Anna Karenina is one of those thick scary classics that I wrapped around myself like a blanket. An ideal winter read in my opinion. But sometimes it got very warm under that blanket. Let me explain just that. Although this is about a tragic love affair of a proud woman yearning for love, a large part of the story is told from Levin’s point of view.

Levin is pretty much the alter ego of Tolstoy himself. A wealthy, introverted landowner who has rather conservative views and doubts his belief in God. Levin has a passion for agriculture and so the book regularly makes excursions into several chapters of Levin working the land together with his serfs. Or he goes hunting with his friends. And then you also have the large political and philosophical discussions between (male) characters that are so typical of classic literature.

Levin is certainly a sympathetic main character, but he took the pace out of the story for me. I was always waiting to get back to Anna, Vronsky or Anna’s husband. Or to Stipa (Anna’s brother) and Dolly (Kitty’s sister, if you still follow me), who were my favourite couple.

Anna is a complicated woman and I liked that. I’m not sure if I pitied her or if I disliked her. That’s the charm of this book. The characters are real, egocentric at times and even a bit superficial. But it just works.

Tolstoy’s writing style is pleasant. Especially the many short chapters make it manageable and give a sense of progression. I have the feeling that the story doesn’t draw heavily on the historical setting. We get a picture of 19th century Russian and especially the contrast between the elite and the peasants. But I had expected that this would be more a ‘historical’ novel. It’s very character-driven and this surprised me.

I’m less scared now to start War and Peace some day.

This is book 12/50 for the classics club.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read this famous classic?

The Fabergé secret by Charles Belfoure

Prince Dimitri Markhov is one of the closest companions of tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. He’s an architect, which makes him one of the few aristocrats with a real job, while his wife Lara likes nothing more than to gossip and meet with her lovers. When Dimitri meets the young doctor Katya at a ball and she takes him to a few art meetings, he discovers that the situation of the peasants in Russia is worse than his friend the tsar wants him te believe. Jews are killed in pogroms, while children sleep in dirty houses and the war with Japan is draining the imperial coffins. Slowly, Dimitri starts to doubt his aristocratic friends and joins the revolutionary cause.

I was happy to be approved for this book of a new to me author because of its beautiful cover (gorgeous, isn’t it?) and interesting setting. I always enjoy books that take place in Russia under the tsars. I can’t really explain why, I just find the Romanovs an interesting dynasty.

But when I started reading I was afraid this would be too much a love story as the blurb suggests. But luckily, I enjoyed the story no less. There are enough elements to like. The novel is written in short chapters from different perspective which kept the pace up.

Dimitri’s character is in constant conflict between his friendship with the imperial couple and his new views on Russia and the need for change. There are also some interesting side characters such as the baron, Lara and of course Nicholas and Alexandra. Their struggle with the sickness of their son touched my heart.

The ending was perhaps a bit too perfect for my liking but I understand the author’s choice. As Dimitri Markhov apparantly isn’t based on a real person, this was the perfect way to write him out of what happens next.

I hadn’t heard of the jeweller Fabergé and his famous imperial eggs before. I loved the descriptions of the eggs, and all other cultural references to Tolstoj and Tchaikovsky in the story. I hope to one day marvel at a Fabergé egg in real life.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher to provide me a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.