4 of 5 stars ****
An epic romance considered one of the two best novels ever written, both by the same author, Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina whisks the reader back to late nineteenth century Russia where the noble class enjoys the best the world has to offer. Alongside the hard-working common folk who enjoy the simple pleasures of life, are the upper echelon in this society's political and military ranks who live by their own standards which define what is acceptable beyond the limits of the law. These limits are exceeded by Anna Karenina, wife to a dignified, wealthy, and respected government official, when she gives in to the charm of a handsome military officer, Count Vronsky, who is smitten by her beauty.
Anna is content with her life as a loving mother to her only son and a faithful wife to her dedicated husband up until Count Vronsky poses a question. He asks her if she wants him to leave her alone and, if so, send him away and he would comply. Anna's void in her life, unfulfilled romance in her marriage, tugs at her heart until she totally yields to her personal desires and tells the Count that she does not want him to go away. A scandalous affair ensues.
Anna tells her husband about her love and happiness with Count Vronsky, who is also in the public's eye amid their common social duties. Heartbroken, her husband decides to maintain honor and dignity by ordering his wife to stop seeing Count Vronsky because divorce is a religious scandal too damaging. Anna continues her love affair which becomes apparent to the public marking her as a woman of scorn. Anna even leaves her beloved son and bares the Count a daughter who is adopted and raised by Anna's husband so that the child would not suffer the hardships with outcast parents.
Count Vronsky eventually loses interest in Anna when she proves to be paranoid and jealous; rapt with guilt and shame due to the rejection she receives from a society that accepts grace and discretion. The Count requests and accepts reintroduction into his military post that grants him participation in all social functions where he becomes his charming self once more but without Anna.
Sleeplessness, alcohol, and drugs lead Anna Karenina to desperation, hopelessness, and despair. Following her own desires to satisfy that one aspect of her life, proves to be a disappointing, lonely existence. She ends her pain by throwing herself on the tracks before an onrushing locomotive.
This reader cringes at the soap opera theme of this story but is still appreciative of experiencing the talent that Leo Tolstoy demonstrates in the story's presentation. A genre, Romance, that can seem "trashy" to many, elevates to sublime with Tolstoy's eloquence and deep understanding of people in complex situations. Tolstoy reveals in this classic novel how selfish pursuits, arrogant pride, and irresponsibility to duty leads to ultimate, unbearable misery.