Book Reflection: Anna Karenina

‘Yes, what did I stop at? That I couldn’t conceive a position in which life would not be a misery, that we are all created to be miserable, and that we all know it, and all invent means of deceiving each other. And when one sees the truth, what is one to do?’ – Leo Tolstoy

In the introduction of this edition, Rosamund Barlett, the translator, noted to the readers that Anna Karenina is the novel that throws out the question, ‘What is the meaning of life?’

Closing the last page, the two contradictory meanings of life popped up into my mind:

Life is an unfair game in which every human being is forced to play, learn the tricks including not giving all of one’s true self out to get through stages striving for happiness. The fittest survives, as stated Charles Darwin.

Or

Life is a train of discourses that everybody is forced to engage in, to express one’s opinion to seek for understanding and unity in order to avoid the calamity of her/his degenerated thoughts.

However, could one of the two mentioned above really lead one’s life to eternal happiness or ‘some sort of ease from misery’?

Either the first or the latter meaning is more convincing to those who have read the story, this book takes you to observe every domain of life from a little perspective to a big one. You witness the complexity of lives in the smallest social institution of society such as family to the biggest one which is the whole society.

In domesticity, you see how different characters get their life through (unfortunately, mostly) hard times. While in politics, you notice points of view from various characters whose life involved with different social classes: the peasants and the aristocrats.

Then you find out there is no standardised rights and wrongs in life, not even morality can do the judgement. It is just what you make out of your life as an individual, accept and live on with the outcome of it on your own, you alone.

And to look closer to one particular topic that seems to be one of the cores of this book love. Tolstoy illustrated to you diverse kinds of love, for instances: love full of passion that blinds one’s eyes and flames one’s soul; and the one that is lightened by God and God only one would listen to, not her/his feelings or reasonings.

Perhaps, we do not need to answer, what is the meaning of life? at all. It is enough to just know ourselves and know our own way through life. One could just believe she/he were born to die and thus only struggle through ‘suffering, death and forgetfulness’, while another one would think to make this painful waiting of death worthwhile.


Title: Anna Karenina

Original language: Russian

Author: Leo Tolstoy

Translator: Rosamund Bartlett