Anna Karenina Read-Along Parts 5 – 8… And The Curtain Falls

Funny, writing a post on this last part to wrap up our Read-Along is much harder than I first thought. Where do I begin?

Here are just some thoughts.

Tolstoy the Psychoanalyst… and More

First, this is not just one story but several, and not just appreciating a 19th C. writer in distant Russia, but this is Tolstoy the master storyteller. I’m amazed at his craft. What a sharp observer of human nature, the incisive psychoanalyst decades before Freud, not only piercing into the minds of women and of men, but our canine pals as well. Tolstoy the dog whisperer. Why, the hunting scene in Part Six is a unique exploration into the cognitive dissonance of Levin’s four-legged hunting partner Laska. And Tolstoy has amusingly shown us why dogs are man’s best friend. They know their master’s shortcomings, yet still remain faithful.

Tolstoy the Late-Night Show Host

And then there’s the humor. I was surprised from the start that Tolstoy’s style is so light and sometimes even deadpan. The best quotes comes from the minor characters. Here’s one from Yashvin, Vronsky’s friend from the military, condensing the 800 plus pages in a nutshell:

 ‘A  wife’s a worry, a non-wife’s even worse,’ thought Yashvin… (p. 544)

Tolstoy can make one superb late-night show host. Listen to this:

A man can spend several hours sitting cross-legged in the same position if he knows that nothing prevents him from changing it; but if he knows that he has to sit with his legs crossed like that, he will get cramps… (p. 528)

That was what Vronsky feels with regard to society. And we know Vronsky gets more than just leg cramps.

Tolstoy the humorist? Or realist? Even the most casual remarks could bring me a smile of agreement. Like here, responding to Vronsky’s urge to go out for a walk, Oblonsky has aptly voiced out my sentiment:

 ‘If only it was possible to stay lying down and still go,’ Oblonsky answered, stretching. ‘It’s wonderful to be lying down.’ (p. 589)

All the World’s a Stage

Mariinsky Theatre, preeminent venue for music and ballet in 19th C. Russia

And then there are the spectacles. Society’s a stage where people are actors and spectators all at the same time. Tolstoy throws in many scenes reminding us that. When Anna and Vronsky come back to Petersburg, they appear separately in public at the theatre, something that Vronsky insists and Anna is indignant about. Vronsky seems to favour the spectator role, searching out people through his opera-glasses. In contrast, Anna would rather be the actor, bravely ignoring reverberations, be on centre stage. From his glasses, Vronsky saw Anna’s head, “proud, strikingly beautiful, and smiling in its frame of lace.” But now that he has her the mystery vanishes. Her beauty, though still entices, begins to ‘offend’ (p. 546).

Anna, oh Anna…

If Anna could have detached more and emoted less… Of course, she has never expected how fickle love can be, or that passion is so short-lived or changeable due to varying circumstances, or that too much of it could smother and delude. Ironically, she does look before she leaps. If only she has used her rationale for better judgement rather than calculating when the middle between two train cars will come, all for satisfying her own delusional revenge on Vronksy.

Further, which should have been no surprise to her, that marriage has ties that linger even after intimacy ends. Anna does not choose Vronsky over her husband, but Vronsky over her son, the two loves of her life. She has chosen romance over motherhood. If I’m being a tad bit unsympathetic, maybe that’s Tolstoy’s doing.

What’s surprising to me is that Tolstoy is quite matter-of-fact about Anna’s predicament. His description of Anna’s tragic demise is just one paragraph, and after that, no more mention of her. Following that comes Part 8, wrapping up the whole book with the limelight on Levin. Quite puzzling really since the book is her namesake.

Levin … Tolstoy?

At the end, is Tolstoy offering a contrast to Anna’s tragic end by detailing Levin’s spiritual awakening? The master storyteller certainly doesn’t shy away from issues which would be considered sensitive subjects and even taboos today, like God, religion, spirituality and morality. So in the book entitled Anna Karenina, Levin has the last word. Umm… which leads to a speculation that Tolstoy might have ‘an agenda’ behind his writing. Is he proselytizing?

More and more these days, I’m seeing people getting edgy about others presenting the case for faith, especially taking offence when it comes to Christianity. Nobody would squirm a bit if suddenly one day you declare you’ve become a Zoroastrian. Mind you, Tolstoy’s handling of Levin’s conversion is reasonably and philosophically grounded, albeit that sudden spark of epiphany is too overwhelming and spontaneous to be rationalized.

And all is within context of the story. Levin, having exceedingly gratified by marital bliss, by the pure love of an angelic woman in Kitty, and witnessed the miracle of life in seeing the birth of his son, has opened unreservedly his heart and soul towards God. We can read it as it is, a convincing turn for a character who has consistently been authentic and genuine in his search for meaning.

If we take offence to this ending, suspecting a hidden agenda from Tolstoy, then we could well shed similar sentiments towards other writers whose faith, convictions, or philosophical viewpoints are presented overtly or seeped through silently in their works. Would we be equally alarmed or offended when we read, for example, Thomas Hardy with his naturalism, Camus and Sartre their existentialism, Graham Greene his Catholicism, Isaac Bashevis Singer his Judaism, Somerset Maugham his Buddhism, and for that matter, Salman Rushdie his atheism? There’s no neutral writing, is there? Every writer breathes into his writing that which stems from his or her own personal world view and hopefully authentic self.

Funny too how Tolstoy in his time could so freely describe Levin’s spiritual awakening and explicitly write about the argumentations for the Christian faith in a literary work. Just makes me think that there might be more freedom of expression in days past than in today’s society.


So here we are, at the end of another Read-Along. Thanks to those who has participated in reading these 800 plus pages with me. To all who have stopped by the pond and thrown in a pebble or two, I’ve appreciated the ripples. To those who are just curious onlookers, your visits mean no less. It’s been a fun ride. Hopefully we’ll do another one in 2013. Will you join us then?

And now, to the movie…


Do go and visit these other Read-Along participants and join in the discussion there:

Janell of An Everyday Life

Bellezza of Dolce Belleza 

Care’s Online Book Club

Stefanie of So Many Books


CLICK HERE to read my first post on Anna Karenina Read-Along: Parts 1 – 4

Photo of Mariinsky Theatre from

Anna Karenina Read-Along: Parts 1 – 4

CLICK HERE to the second and concluding post Parts 5-8: And the Curtain Falls

CLICK HERE to read my movie review of Anna Karenina (2012)

Thanks to Joe Wright’s upcoming film adaptation, I’m motivated to go past that famous first line to embark on this read of over 800 pages. Also thanks to you who are willing to come along with me, and those who are cheering us on, I have more fun than doing this alone.

Reading Anna Karenina for the first time, my immediate impression is that it is lighter than I’ve expected, melodramatic and even comical at times. Last month I just finished listening to an audiobook version of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, so I can feel the difference in tone as soon as I begin. Despite its being a more relaxed read, it strikes me with how sharp Tolstoy’s observations of human nature are, and how masterful he is in piercing through the human psyche, no less than Dostoevsky’s heavy dealing of crime or punishment…. ummm, this may well be Tolstoy’s take on the subjects as well.

In reading this first part of the book, I’m particularly amused by Tolstoy’s sensitive and spot-on descriptions of his characters. Here’s an early example. Levin, insecure in front of Kitty and his formidable rival Vronsky, responds to Kitty’s mother Countess Nordston as she sarcastically mentions him to Vronsky:

 ‘Konstantin Dmitrich (Levin) despises and hates the city and us city-dwellers,’ said Countess Nordston.

‘My words must have a strong effect on you, since you remember them so well,’ said Levin, and, realizing that he had already said that earlier, he turned red. (p. 51)

People turn colour a lot in the book, and I’m most curious to see that on screen.

Tolstoy’s observation of love, or maybe, his understanding of men, oddly, is articulated by Anna:

I think,’ said Anna, toying with the glove she had taken off, ‘I think… if there are as many minds as there are men, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. (p. 138)

Anna’s words here remind me of a modern cinematic version of Anna KareninaThe English Patient. In response to Almasy’s (Ralph Fiennes) statement that “A thing is still a thing no matter what you place in front of it”, Katherine Clifton (Kristin Scott Thomas) responds: “Love? Romantic love, platonic love, filial love…? Quite different things, surely.” Is it merely coincidental that such a similar observation is pointed out in both cases by the female protagonist while the male character seems oblivious… just wondering.

But it is with the theme of forgiveness Tolstoy toys with that I’m most intrigued. No pun intended here, but I find some major twists and turns are based on this very notion of forgiveness in an ironic way. At the start Anna is the one urging Dolly to forgive her husband Stiva Oblonsky’s extramarital affair. No sooner has she succeeded as a mediator she becomes deeply entwined in one herself, one that apparently she cannot find a way out.

‘Be careful what you pray for,’ as if Tolstoy is saying. Anna desires forgiveness from her husband Alexi Alexandrovich. And he, upon seeing her suffer the near-death illness, throws away his wrath and grudges and forgives her unreservedly. Having read up to this point of the story, it appears that his spiritual epiphany is genuine.

Alas, Anna doesn’t realize that the whole package of forgiveness offered by her husband requires a mending of ways and a renewal of the marriage relationship. She has pleaded for magnanimity, now she gets it, and it sure doesn’t taste like what she’d wanted. Her brother Oblonsky tells Alexi Alexandrovich:

She’s crushed, precisely crushed by your magnanimity.” (p. 430)

What she wants isn’t forgiveness, but release.

It’s interesting to see how Tolstoy intersects and contrasts the three storylines of marriage relationship. Levin and Kitty at this point are only at the planning stage of their marriage, but look to be the couple that is bound for most bliss among the three. And if forgiveness does harvest its desirable crop, it can be found here in Levin discarding his grudge on Kitty’s rejection of his first proposal and the insult he has felt. He could well sympathize with Kitty, herself being a victim of her own delusional crush on Vronsky.

Levin’s agrarian idealism makes an interesting contrast to the high society of Petersburg and Moscow. I don’t know what will happen next with Levin and Kitty, will he move to the city or she to the country, will their love last? But that’s exactly the fun of reading, it lures you on. Why, Anna Karenina the novel used to be published as serial installments in a periodical from 1873 – 1877. The master storyteller must have known where to stop at the end of every episode.

Having seen the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation, I get an inkling of how screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare In Love, 1998) stylizes the classic. So as I read, I look out for scenes and mentions of the stage, opera, and other spectacles. There are lots.

All the great world was in the theatre.” (P. 128)

Alexi Alexandrovich goes to the opera and concerts frequently, and Vronsky prefers the comical Opera Bouffe to the more serious ones. The horse race is watched by all, while Anna’s reaction to Vronsky’s fall is watched most carefully by her husband. They are all watching each other, being the audience and the actors at the same time. And we the readers are all observers of this whole spectacle of a literary extravaganza.

Oh the joy of reading together. If only we could watch together as well…

Here are the links to other Read-Along participants (if you’ve written a post on Anna Karenina, do leave a comment so I can link to it):

Janell of An Everyday Life

Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza

Stefanie of So Many Books

oh of This Writing Life


In my original plan, the date for our second and final post to wrap up this Read-Along is November 11. I just realized that is Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada. You may have a special post in mind to mark the occasion. So let’s change our wrap up post to November 15, which will also coincide with the U.S. release of the film the next day:

Anna Karenina Read-Along Parts 5 – 8 Concluding Post to come out NOVEMBER 15.


CLICK HERE to view the trailer of the film Anna Karenina (2012), directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, 2007; Pride & Prejudice, 2005), screenplay by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare In Love, 1998, and the brilliant play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, 1967)


Anna Karenina Read-Along: 10 Pages a Day

CLICK HERE to read my Concluding Post: Parts 5 – 8 And The Curtain Falls

CLICK HERE to read my post on Parts 1 – 4 of Anna Karenina. 


I’ve done the math. From today till the new movie adaptation’s general release (Nov.16) there are exactly three months. So that means finishing this 800 some pages novel needs reading about 10 pages a day. A doable plan.

Here’s the edition I’m using, the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. Feel free to explore others.

If you are one of the few like me who haven’t gone past that famous first line, now’s the chance to do it together. And for the majority of you who have read it, how about a reread before watching the award-aiming movie directed by Joe Wright of Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007) fame, with Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Johnson, Matthew Macfadyen, Michelle Dockery, Olivia Williams…

Not that we need them to lure us into reading Tolstoy.

Or that we need TIME to tell us Anna Karenina holds the no. 1 spot on their Top Ten Greatest Books of All Time.

I’ve totally enjoyed the camaraderie of a read-along in the Midnight’s Children experience. So, short of going to see the movie together, we can read the book as a virtual book group.

Here’s the simple plan. We’ll divide the eight parts of the book in half and just do two posts in the next three months, about seven weeks apart and from now till the first post:

Post 1: Part One to Four — September 30

Post 2: Part Five to Eight — November 15

A doable plan, isn’t it? Hope you can join in. Let me know in a comment so I can link to your blog. If you’re not a blogger, you can also read-along with us. Join in our discussion with your comment on the day of the posts.

Happy reading!


From your comments, here’s a list of those joining our Anna Karenina Read-Along:

Stefanie of So Many Books

Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza 

Loucas Raptis of The Monster of Wrangellia 

Janell of An Everyday Life

Becca of Becca’s Byline


oh of This Writing Life

… so far. You’re still welcome to join us. Post your thoughts on Sept. 30 and Nov. 11 and/or just hop around to our posts to join in our discussions if you’re not a blogger.


Great Film Expectations

For an updated list of 2012 premieres of film adaptations, CLICK HERE.

With written works from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus materialized on the big screen, what else can we anticipate in this year and next?

Here’s an update of some upcoming film adaptations from literary works. Great choices for book groups too.

A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré

On the heels of the acclaimed “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, this time, Philip Seymour Hoffman is the man. Directed by Anton Corbijn whose last film was the deep and thoughtful “The American, a film I found to be much better than the book.


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Finally, dates are set for the premiere: Sept. 7 in the UK, Nov. 9 in the US. I look forward to this one: Tom Stoppard screenplay, Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) directs, Keira Knightly as Anna, Matthew MacFadyen Oblonzky, Jude Law Alexai, Aaron Johnson Count Vronsky, and Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary) as Princess Myagkaya, plus many other British stars.


Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell 

Winner of multiple awards and shortlisted for a Booker in 2004, the apocalyptic novel is adapted by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and The Wachowski’s (Matrix’s). Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw (Bright Star), Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent. Here’s Susan Sarandon’s take on the production.


The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud 

Some big names affiliated with this project are Richard Gere, Eric Bana, Keira Knightly, Emma Thompson, Rachel McAdams. Director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart) on board. But I can find no more news after this announcement, which is fine, gives me more time to get to the book first. It’s been on my TBR list for a few years now.


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

To coincide with the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens and the Olympics in London, Mike Newell (Enchanted April, Four Weddings and a Funeral) directs, screenplay by David Nicholl (One Day, Tess of d’Urbervilles, When Did You Last See Your Father) who may be also writing the third Bridget Jones movie. Ralph Fiennes is Magwitch, Helena Bonham Carter Miss Havisham, Jeremy Irvine, Pip.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

What will F. Scott think when he sees his masterpiece produced in 3D in the 21st Century? Woody: do give us a sequel to “Midnight In Paris” with your brilliant imagination. Australian director Bez Luhrmann is poised to bring us this new version of Gatsby in 3D, which I’m sure will stir up lots of discussions. It has already. But no matter how I dislike 3D (except Hugo), I want to see Leo DiCaprio play Jay G., Carey Mulligan, Daisy B., and Tobey Maguire, Nick C. Do Click Here to read a Guardian preview close to 3D.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Kenneth Branagh will direct Kate Winslet in this popular novel about the power of literature in desperate wartime. This is a reprise of their cooperation from 1996, when Branagh, as Hamlet, also directed Winslet as Ophelia. No dates have been set for its production or release, but something to keep in mind.


The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

Coming out in three parts. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 2012, and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of  Smaug’ in Dec. 2013, and ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ in July, 2014. Peter Jackson attempts to reprise his Rings Trilogy magic. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Orlando Bloom… the whole gang. Again, we’ll get to see beautiful New Zealand as setting.


The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin

Claire Tomalin’s account of Charles Dickens’ affair with the young writer Nelly Ternan will be brought to screen with script from Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) to be directed by Ralph Fiennes, who will play Dickens himself. To add to the rave, Kristin Scott Thomas is also on board. Felicity Jones will be playing Nelly Ternan. Fiennes never ceases to amaze us with his versatility, after directing Shakespeare’s Coriolanus in postmodern style.


Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Tom Hooper of “The King’s Speech” directs an all star cast in this musical offering. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert (is he going to sing too?), Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway join in the chorus. Just too bad Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth are missing here. Release date for North America is Dec. 2012, which means it can be a contender in next Awards Season.


Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Director Ang Lee picked 17 year-old Suraj Sharma of Delhi, India, from 3,000 teenagers to play Pi Patel. Interesting that Tobey MacGuire will play Yann Martel, the author of the book which won the 2002 Man Booker Prize. The film to be shot in 3D has a December 2012 release date. Again, films opening in December usually have eye on the next Awards Season. Will keep our eyes peeled.


Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The Booker of Bookers winning work will see its author Salman Rushdie team up with acclaimed Canadian director Deepa Mehta in the film adaptation. Mehta in a recent interview hinted it will debut either at the Venice or the Toronto Film Festival this fall. You can still join us for a slow Read-Along of Midnight’s Children before the film comes out.


Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier 

On the drawing board of Dreamwork and Working Title. Who can take the helm to reprise an adaptation made famous by Alfred Hitchcock, and actors to replace Sir Laurence Olivier as Mr. de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the new Mrs? Now, why does Carey Mulligan emerges in my mind… and Michael Fassbender


What Maisie Knew by Henry James

Looks like a good classic to read before seeing the movie. Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgård lead the cast. I’ve enjoyed previous Henry James adaptations of The Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl, and The Portrait of a Lady. Look forward to this one.


Books to be turned into TV series:

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

To be adapted into an HBO TV series with an all-star cast under the helm of Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale). Stars include Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper and Greta Gerwig. But, will the author be involved in any of the writing?


A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Again, HBO has bought the rights to this one. The 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner is to be adapted into a half-hour TV series.



The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Yet again, it’s HBO that will be developing the novel into a TV drama series, another project by the “uber producer” Scott Rudin, who also oversees “The Corrections.”



What are some of  your most anticipated films or books in the coming year(s)?