This is going to be a tough book to review, just like it was a tough book to read. It was written in 1877, and in Imperial Russia, both of which make it tough for a modern American reader. Every time I picked this up, it was an effort to wade back in. Tolstoy’s characters go off on interminable journeys of internal dialogue and philosophizing about the evolving role of nobility in society, on the virtues of hard work, of love and duty and all sorts of weighty important topics.
That’s not to say there aren’t interesting (and sometimes funny!) parts to the book. One of my favorites occurs early in the second half of the book: a minor Russian noble goes to the country to visit with two of the major characters (Levin and Kitty) who have just recently been married. The visiting noble is an absolute idiot. He manages to nearly wreck Levin’s carriage, almost ruins a good horse, comes close to accidentally shooting his hunting companions, and on the second day of their week-long hunting trip his companions discover that the noble has eaten all of their provisions, so they have to go back to Levin’s house. Once there, he starts flirting with Kitty until the newlyweds get fed up with him and Levin throws him out.
The great thing about that particular episode is something that Levin and Kitty do that nobody else seems to do anywhere else in the book: they talk to each other about what is making them unhappy. In this case, it’s fairly obvious – the idiot noble – and the solution is equally obvious – chuck him out. But it’s infuriating that none of the other characters, some of whom have much more complex problems, ever seem to think about taking the simple step of sitting down and talking with their loved ones.
Honestly, I wanted to take each character aside, set them down apart from anyone else in the book, and then slap them silly and send them off to group counseling.
Total Pages: 10850