thoughts on books: anna karenina

Anna Karenina, another tome by Leo Tolstoy, is a magnificent and sweeping book that focuses on two story lines – and three marriages: Anna and her husband Karenin, Dolly and her husband Stiva Oblonsky (Anna’s brother) and Kitty (Dolly’s sister) and Konstantin Levin. The dashing Alexei Vronsky is also in the picture as a key source of intrigue in two of the marriages. The book encompasses the history of Russia in the late 19th century by exploring how the changes in Russia affected and were affected by these characters who are trying to adjust to underlying evolution that sometimes seems a little too slow in their estimation. Because this book is so driven by the individual storylines, it’s difficult to summarize this evolution and the eventual changes to the characters – it is the movement by many small steps driven by a series of events.

The Anna storyline combines the challenges of love, the responsibility of commitments, the unexpected attraction to someone, and the roles in and rules of a confining and unsympathetic society. Anna is not in love with her husband, with whom she has a child. At first, she has reconciled herself to life with her husband, who can be stern. She finds herself in love (and in a relationship) with Vronsky that is, at best, unstable. This storyline parallels the opening up of a conservative and traditional society that does not accept women moving on from an unhappy marriage. Although Karenin initially forgives Anna’s affair, she cannot let Vronsky go and she grows to hate her husband. Yet, another challenge for her is that Vronsky is not suited to a “settled” life – he cannot really give Anna what she needs or wants. She becomes jealous as he (the man) is free and she (the woman) is scorned. This is a complex set of relationships that is not easily described without context. Let’s just say, it ends badly for all, but especially for Anna.

The Levin storyline brings together the story of newlyweds who are learning to live together and who manage a large farm at a time when the agrarian revolution was coming to the fore. Levin not only exemplifies the growing peasant-oriented approach to farming and agriculture but also the growth of a politically active class of land owners and community representatives. While Anna’s storyline gets the attention and the movies, I was more interested in the Levin story. Kitty and Levin seemed to be the more modern couple – though bound by gendered roles and power distribution, they (mostly) seemed to like each other and work together. Their life on the farm and in the city seems comfortable and successful. They have children, Levin embraces faith and they both value their conventional lives. Levin also embraces farming and views the farm, its work, and its workers as good and valuable and building something beyond himself. Although he is not always a happy person, he brings a philosophical connection to the land and work that enriches his life. He desires to grow and prosper as a farmer and as a person – he becomes a happy person who is able to embrace his life.

As with Russian/Tolstoy stories, the changes in society provide a backdrop to very interesting stories featuring not only the main characters but a host of others who play a role in the both the primary story lines and the overall broader movements in society. The opening line sets the stage for both Anna and Levin, as well as the three marriages: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Anna was unhappy for much of the book and believed at the end that her life had no purpose, stability, or value. Levin, while unhappy at the beginning, came to see that his life had value and stability and that he had the power to do good. These interwoven storylines present an interesting contrast. I rated the book as 5/5.

thoughts on books: a tale of two cities

Such a lovely book that captured the full range of emotions! I’m a fan of Charles Dickens – from my first read of Oliver Twist when I was in middle school and through Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and so on. The books often have elements of fun and adventure as well as unflinching views of poverty, oppression, injustice, and vulnerability. There is a reason why the word dickensian has entered the vernacular. And this is a fairly short book, especially for Dickens!

The book has its very well-known opening and closing lines that set the stage and wrap it all up …

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way, ….
  • It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done, it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Although I enjoyed the characters in A Tale of Two Cities, I think I liked the plot more. The series of events forced the characters to grow and change – to become, in most cases, better, more responsible, and more responsive people. There is a theme of rebirth and renewal in the story, as people seek to change themselves and start new chapters in their lives. This happens to several characters in one way or another. Some pretend to be someone other than who they are, while some are in hiding or emerge from the shadows. They demonstrate their love, some in unexpected ways. The book serves as a reminder to have some humility and realize that one is not able to control everything – as more than one character comes to realize.

The juxtaposition of the two cities and what went on in them was striking – routine in one, chaos in the other. The Revolution played out in unexpected ways. My bias is usually “with the people” and the right to a decent life, so it was in some ways difficult to read about how the “citizens” started to treat one another. The poor and subjugated people in society were horribly treated by the wealthy and powerful. Their cause is understandable. But, revolutions are messy and innocent people get hurt – it’s a good reminder that there is a downside to all that energy! The story emphasized how the violence inherent in fighting the powers that be were turned against other people and personal vendettas led to vigilante actions. The bloodlust that can emerge when violence and mob rule become routine is difficult to watch, as it can replace the process of seeking justice and a better life with a focus on revenge for past sins, acts, and slights. We see these things happen today – in many ways, nothing changes.

The duality theme – two cities, two people who look alike, the duplicity of spies, and characters entering at the beginning and the end – was so well-done without being heavy handed. There is a parallel structure that makes it possible to see the flip side of actions, including freedom versus imprisonment. Some instances of hiding identities were good and protective actions, other instances allowed for sinister activities to take place. The life of calm versus the life of chaotic overthrow are played out, but with it the hope for something better.

When I read great books, I tend to come away feeling “respected” as a reader. It’s like the author knew that I would make the links without him/her having to do it for me. These books make me think and to consider events, topics, characters and the use of language. This is a 5/5 – pretty much knew that coming in, as it was a re-read, but it was nice to have it confirmed.

working and balancing

I read an article in my news feed that talked about the important factors related to finding a job that will make you happy. The article, published in The Atlantic, pointed to having a sense of accomplishment, being part of something that makes the world a better place, and several other factors as being key elements. I agree that these things contribute to a better job experience. When I first started out after college, these were the key things for me. It wasn’t about money but about making a difference. Over time, my focus has shifted a bit but I still value the idea of contributing to making life better for people.

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hosting jeopardy!

I love Jeopardy! With Alex Trebek’s death in November, the search began for his replacement. There have been a series of guest hosts and the internet is abuzz over who is the best and who will replace Alex. One of the things people tend to overlook is that it’s not clear which guest hosts would actually like to make the hosting gig a permanent one. Some of the guest hosts seem to consider their opportunity as a bucket list item or a fun lark or a tribute to Alex. There are really only a few who have said they would like to be considered a permanent host, at least from what I’ve read.

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back again …

Between COVID, moving and other changes, it’s been quite a year. I’m finally able to poke my head out and start to rejoin the world.

As I said in a prior post (where have you been?), working from home has been a blessing because my mother needed to have someone around to help her get meals and function in daily life. When she moved down to Baltimore, she didn’t really want to go out and meet new people or go to a senior center or otherwise engage in the world unless I went with her. Being at home has allowed me to be around, so that was great.

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regrets … I’ve had a few

flower-1030408_1920I can almost hear Sinatra singing My Way in the background as I start this post.

My sister-in-law has an unusual talent for asking questions that stay with me for a while. Last year, when she and my brother came for a visit, the question was whether I was happy with my life. Apparently, my brother mentioned that he thought I was and that he was happy that I seemed happy. My SIL was more direct – she asked me! I said yes, but it was not the most enthusiastic yes. If you look at the past several posts, you can probably understand why. More about this question in an upcoming post. Continue reading

where do we start?

fractal-2428531_1280So, fall became winter, which became spring, which became summer! I can say with some confidence that I’m back.

A lot has happened since I last “really” posted, so I’ll spend the next few posts bringing everyone up-to-date on the three of us.

First, we are all doing well and are enjoying life. Oscar is feasting on treats, perching in his window seat and lounging on my new desk. Mom is knitting up a storm using pretty sparkly yarn and doing jigsaw puzzles. I’m in resting mode after a very busy few months … more on that later.

Second, I decided to update the blog with a different look – I hope you like it. If you notice anything missing, please let me know. I tried to go back through and read everything (and resisted the temptation to edit) but may have missed something. It seemed like a good time to make a change!

Third, thanks to everyone following or reading the blog and to anyone who has sent in comments. I really appreciate hearing from people.

Now,  here we go ….

 

 

 

new summer project … see you in the fall!

I am working on a new-ish writing project and so will be taking a break from the blog until the fall. Last year, I started writing a children’s story that will feature some drawings from my mother. Then, I got a little off-track when I started the blog. I had planned to try to do both, but the reality is that I can’t do both the story and the blog in addition to everything else. embroidery-74087_1280

I will be back in the fall. Fingers crossed that I can make some progress on the children’s story! See you in a couple of months. Have a great summer ….