I'm so sorry for the long silence!! I hope to actually get back to regularly posting now.
Description: Anna Karenina is the complex story of a group of closely-related people in high Russian society (related by blood, by marriage, and simply by acquaintance). Anna, a married woman, is wooed by Vronsky, breaking Kitty's heart. Anna's sister Dolly is heartbroken by her own husband's affairs. Levin is in love with Kitty but almost too shy to admit it. [Full confession: despite the book's name, all of these people are important! And this is a wholly inadequate description, but I'm not sure how much more I can say without giving anything away.]
My Thoughts: I loved it! Tolstoy's writing powerfully created such realistic characters that I truly felt as if they could just walk off the page. Their thoughts and decision-making processes were so realistic! What created this realism for me was Tolstoy's painstaking attention to every detail about the character: their every movement, action, and thought. At times this became tedious (like real life!), but it always expanded my understanding of the character(s). And an interesting note about Tolstoy's style: unlike the oft-quoted writing commandment to "show, don't tell", Tolstoy tells us huge amounts of information about the characters: what they're doing, what they're feeling, the complicated reasons that they're doing and feeling those things--and it worked!!
A huge part of this realism was the fact that a huge portion of the characters ended up making horrible decisions and being miserable. At times it was difficult to read! It was heart-rending to watch characters change from joyful, moral people to miserable, sinful people, often as a result of one single bad decision that they then repeated and compounded over time.
I know that there were huge parts of Anna Karenina that went over my head. It seems very grounded in a specific time and place in Russian history--a time and place that I know little to nothing about. There were references to religious movements, for instance, that ended up being important, but I didn't understand a lot of the specifics about it. This problem was compounded by the fact that I had to give the beautifully annotated version back to the library and finish with an e-book!
Ultimately, a hugely poignant but also joyful examination of human sinfulness and human strivings for more. I thoroughly enjoyed Anna Karenina, and cannot recommend it enough.
A note on the cover: unfortunately the gorgeous cover above is not the one from the version I read. It's perfect--that is exactly how I imagined Anna. I admit I can't even remember what my cover looked like (a slightly blue-tinted black-and-white photograph? Perhaps of fabric?), so it clearly didn't make a huge impression on me.