Far more learned scholars than I could aspire to become have made it clear that Tolstoy's work, and this wonderful novel in particular, stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. They have pointed to his ability to take the reader into the minds of his characters, to experience not only their words and their thoughts but their very souls and in this manner allow us to see ourselves and our interactions with our fellow beings. For example I found, very late in the book, one passage which nicely sums up for me much of the interaction between characters in this novel. A major character has just had yet another argument with her lover and is reviewing the row, thinking of things he might have said to her. "All the most cruel words that a brutal man could say, he said to her in her imagination, and she could not forgive him for them, as though he had actually said them." While Tolstoy obviously wrote of what he knew, the Russian aristocracy of the 1800s, the tale remains as current and as appropriate as though it were written about ordinary blue-collar folk of Des Moines or Detroit in the 21st century. This is the true 'genius' of Tolstoy, in my view, that whatever the setting, whatever the time he manages to touch on those elements within us that are universal and timeless. To be sure Oscar Wilde sends up the idle rich smartly and satirically and with fewer words but he must needs narrow his focus to do so, leaving behind the fullness of the society in which those folks operate. Tolstoy by contrast gives us the whole. He also manages to clothe his characters without resorting to Neiman-Marcus advertising copy--one of my pet peeves with modern writers. A word of caution if I may. Finding a copy of this great novel presented just 'bare', without those ever-so-scholarly extras like an introduction, footnotes/endnotes, and so forth is next to impossible these days, so unless you're the kind of person who reads the last chapter first, or who watches a movie for the first time with the director's commentary overriding the audio, I recommend you avoid those extras until after you've enjoyed Tolstoy's own words, wallowed in the beauty of his prose. Problem is, you see, while these folks are on their way to impressing the reader with their scholarship they care not a wit about acting as spoilers for the darn good read Tolstoy created. Enjoy Anna Karenina to its fullest as Tolstoy intended, and then if you feel like being brought down off your high, read what the 'experts' think.
I enjoyed this book very much. I like how you can relate to the characters. Their problems are like many peoples problems today, even though it was written over 100 years ago. I was surprised at the ending.
My mother recommended this book as one of the best books she ever read. I guess you either love it or hate it because I thought it was not good at all. It's very slow and very long. I felt that many sections of the book could have been cut out to condense the story, which would have made it more interesting and readable. I guess Tolstoy is lucky I wasn't his editor.