Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy The Russian Messenger Critically panned on its release by the 19th-century Russian literati as a lightweight high-society romance, Leo Tolstoy's seventh novel - and the first he wrote after War and Peace - enjoyed a reversal of opinion once readers had actually finished the 800-page tome. Tolstoy's contemporary, Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoevsky, described Anna Karenina as 'as flawless as a work of art', and his opinion was shared by many luminaries of 20th-century literature. Anna Karenina still sells briskly today and routinely appears on best-novels-ever lists the world over. Why? It's an outstanding yarn - with universal themes - well told, and the book captivates the reader with the form of Russian realist fiction that Tolstoy pioneered. War and Peace is generally considered Tolstoy's overarching masterpiece. But in his native Russia, he is seen as the author of twin masterpieces - the aforementioned classic, and the book he wrote seven years later, focusing on a beautiful, coltish aristocrat called Anna and her lover, the dashing officer Count Vronsky. Tragedy descends as Anna tries to cope with both her passionless marriage to Alexei Karenin and the hypocritical judgments of the society of the day. This novel about the fragility of love and family happiness is set in the centre of a vast and richly painted canvas of 19th-century Russia. It's also, for an extended episode, a story about expatriate life. Although Vronsky eventually takes Anna to Italy to overcome their problems and get closer together, they have trouble fitting in, which places more strain on their marriage. Returning to Russia, Anna finds herself shunned by the high society she briefly left. Meanwhile, Vronsky gets back with his toff chums, while trying to reassure the increasingly distraught Anna that her fears of his infidelity are imagined. Themes explored here include all Tolstoy's favourites: hypocrisy, jealousy, duplicity, faith, carnal desire, fidelity, family, marriage, divorce, and societal progress in his homeland. Tolstoy weaves real events into the story arc, to enhance the verisimilitude of the fictional events. Moreover, characters debate significant sociopolitical issues affecting Russia in the late 19th century, such as the class system, education reform and women's rights. Not only is Anna Karenina a story of doomed love, but also a subtle treatise on the changing Russia that Tolstoy saw around him. Common to both aspects of the book is the message of this outstanding novel: one cannot build happiness on another person's unhappiness.