Working my way through it via my phone’s Kindle app, I am trying to understand just why Anna Karenina is so esteemed a novel. Says Wikipedia, “Fyodor Dostoevsky declared it to be ‘flawless as a work of art’. His opinion was shared by Vladimir Nabokov, who especially admired ‘the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s style’, and by William Faulkner, who described the novel as ‘the best ever written.'” In fact, I find the novel long and often tedious, going into exquisite detail the self-imposed mental torture experienced by the story’s protagonists regarding their situations, thoughts, and actions.

Thus far, I have been most touched by Levin’s interactions with his dying brother, Nikolai, which so resemble my own with my father:

Angry with himself for his unworthy sentiments, Levin ran down into the vestibule; and, as soon as he saw his brother close at hand, the feeling of personal discomfort instantly disappeared, and was succeeded by a feeling of pity. Terrible as his brother Nikolai had been when he saw him before by reason of his emaciation and illness, he was now still more emaciated, still more feeble. He was like a skeleton covered with skin.

Nikolai is a difficult, abrasive man. Born of privilege, he is now now living in squalor and dying from drink. For his circumstances, Nikolai blames everyone but himself. This is a scenario all too familiar to me.

At this moment both were thinking the same thought, — Nikolai’s illness and approaching death — dwarfing everything else into insignificance. Neither of them dared make the least allusion to it, and therefore all that either of them said failed to express what really occupied their minds — and was therefore false. Never before had Levin been so glad for an evening to end, for bedtime to come. Never, even when obliged to pay casual or official visits, had he felt so false and unnatural as that evening. And the consciousness of this unnaturalness, and his regret, made him more unnatural still. His heart was breaking to see his beloved dying brother; but he was obliged to dissemble, and to talk about various things as if his brother was going to live.

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