My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
Frank Muller was a great audiobook reader. But first I should talk about the book.
This is a great book. A first person account by an average soldier with no apparent exaggeration or didacticism. Pretty much every situation you can imagine a soldier would get into is presented but it never feels contrived. In fact, very little of the book involves actual fighting, which only adds to the realism. We have seen this so many times in the years since this book was written. We probably don't even realize how influential this book has been. And if some things in this book feel clichéd, you can probably blame all those imitators that came afterwards.
But what makes the book stand out is the character of its narrator. His feelings about his situation, his feelings about his comrades, his reactions to what happens, his observations about the war, his recounting the opinions of the people he meets. Whatever illusions he may have had about fighting for his country, they are soon replaced by the reality of modern warfare. His loyalty is to his comrades. His main concerns are about things like getting enough to eat keeping his feet dry. These observations build quietly and powerfully through the whole book, and that is what makes it such an effective statement about war and the universality of mankind.
I'll shut up now and let the book speak for itself.
Frank Muller does a terrific job of conveying the tone of the bored soldier struggling to preserve his personhood. I only recently discovered this reader and am sorry to learn that he is no longer with us.
maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. I know this is one of the giants of modern literature, the prose is brilliant, the exposition is brilliant, the one and only real character is brilliantly detailed and nuanced, but the subject just didn't resonate with me. OK, so it's the biggest most important subject in the world. Yes, I agree with that. It is also, within the boundaries of this book, a very tiny exploration of a specific perspective on that subject. Maybe audio just isn't the right medium for a first trip through this book. It's the kind of book that requires you to just stop and savor each thing the author says.
I wish I could say I liked any of these characters. It would make it so much easier to give a heartfelt endorsement to this book. It is without question a great book. Tolstoy has learned a lot in the 8 years since he wrote War and Peace. Instead of shifting back and forth between the story and historical analysis, he has figured out how to integrate everything into the story. Not only does the historical exposition fit naturally into the dialog between the characters, but his observations of the characters and their feelings is spot on perfect. And by cluing us in to their feelings, we understand why they react in a particular way to the next person they encounter, and how those internal processes contribute to hampering and undermining the oral communication we all depend upon.
This was a hard book to listen to because I kept wanting to stop and consider all the ideas Tolstoy introduced. I suppose the key question for the reader is to decide what you think this book is about. I don't think it's about Anna Karenina anymore than War and Peace is about war and peace. I think Tolstoy's central concern is about how to live one's life, and how to satisfy one's soul. From that perspective, Anna serves as an example of how seemingly justifiable choices lead inexorably to disaster. Levin is more truly the protagonist of the book. Everyone else is illustrating to one degree or another the thesis Tolstoy is exploring.
I picked this version of the book because I like Wanda McCaddon as a narrator. I suppose I should have given more thought to which translation I wanted to hear. This one (as best I can determine) is the one by Louise and Aylmer Maude. Both Maude's and Bennett's translations have served generations of Tolstoy readers, but I guess those of us who haven't learned Russian will have to wait awhile to hear a more updated translation.
One thing that really surprised me is that Karenin, for all his faults, is hardly the monster he is generally regarded to be. In fact, it is impossible to point to a true villain in this book. Nearly every character in inwardly pursuing what he or she believes to be a good end, even if they are misguided in one way or another.