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Anna Karenina  By  cover art

Anna Karenina

By: Leo Tolstoy
Narrated by: Maggie Gyllenhaal
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Go Behind the Scenes with Maggie Gyllenhaal

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Editorial review


By Madeline Anthony, Audible Editor

LESSONS IN LOVE FROM TOLSTOY—READING ANNA KARENINA IN MODERN DAY

One of Tolstoy’s most celebrated novels, Anna Karenina has less to do with politics and more to do with the love life of one woman. Or at least, that’s what the title will have you believe. To really get into it, a reader has to accept the enormous undertaking of either the 864-page print edition, or the 35-hour-and-35-minute-long audio version. It was when I learned that one of my favorite actresses, Maggie Gyllenhaal, was cast as narrator of the great classic that I finally thought, "challenge accepted." I knew it was time, at last, to check this masterwork off my "to be listened" list, and that if anyone could get me through this epic, it was Maggie.

What I love most about this novel is its ability to hold a mirror up to life itself. Tolstoy does not tell us what to think, does not even nudge us in either direction. He simply says—look, see, and do not judge. This is the stuff of life itself. Through the trials and tribulations of Anna, Tolstoy details his thoughts on romantic love—jealousy can ruin what is, when left alone, precious and beautiful; everyone is flawed; and love itself is not the answer to all of life's many problems.

While Anna’s character is, of course, central to the story, Anna Karenina is not only about her love affairs and the people who course through her life. It is a time capsule of 1870’s Russia and a meditation on faith told through the lens of a farmer, Levin, who questions whether or not he believes throughout the entirety of the novel.

By the end of the marathon that is this classic piece of literature, the listener starts to understand the deep truth that eludes Anna Karenina line after line—a change in geography or lovers is not the key to happiness. In both Tolstoy's fiction and the real world, there is no "happily ever after" unless you have found it within yourself.

Continue reading Madeline's review >

Publisher's summary

Winner: Audible's Best of 2016 - Classic

"Anna Karenina is one of my favorite books. But when I agreed to read it for Audible, I had no idea how much work it would be, how intense it would be, and how deeply I would fall in love with it. There were places where I thought 'if I don't give Alexey Alexandrovitch the respect that he deserves in my reading of this scene, a critical part of the book will be ruined. If I don't give EVERYONE the utmost respect and understanding, I'm not doing justice to this brilliantly compassionate book.' But at the same time, I also wanted to have a light touch in the way I played the different characters, so that the magnificence of the novel could shine through. I feel like performing this novel is one of the major accomplishments of my work life - it was so challenging and so deep, a real pleasure." (Narrator Maggie Gyllenhaal)

Leo Tolstoy's classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky. Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, The Honourable Woman) cites Tolstoy's epic as one of her favorite books of all time, and her love for the literature permeates her performance. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.

Public Domain (P)2016 Audible, Inc.

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What listeners say about Anna Karenina

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Need to Disclose and Highlight Name of Translator

If you disclosed Constance Garnett as the translator of this version of Anna Karenina, where did you do so? I didn't catch it. This is important information that needs to be highlighted. Vladimir Nabokov, a master of the Russian and English languages, thought that Garnett's translation was a "complete disaster." Whether Nabokov was right or not, there certainly is a real controversy about the translation.

I beg you, in the future please disclose the translator's name routinely, and as prominently as the name of the author. Thank you.

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Top Notch Performance

I've listened to several audiobook recordings of this classic novel. This one may be the best.

The narrator is a famous American actress who obviously devoted a lot of time and effort. I admire her because audiobook narrators are famously underpaid. I'm sure she didn't do this just for the money. You can tell she loves this story, which in my opinion is the greatest love story in novel form.

One of the unique aspects of this version is that most of the other narrators are British. This narrator has a naturally clear and seamless American delivery. It caused me to pick up subtleties that I didn't feel listening to the Brits (though I thoroughly enjoyed them).

This audiobook is worth your money. I plan to re-listen to it in a few months.

A note on this translation:

This is the famous Constance Garnett translation, which, for many years, was the gold standard and the one beloved by so many great writers such as Faulkner and Hemmingway. There are several recent translations, most of which I've read. This and all translations are very good. I wish there were audiobook versions of the recent translations, but I understand that Audible and other recording companies probably can't afford to pay the translators so they use this and other old translations whose copyrights have expired. This is another reason why this narrator has done such an admirable job. Her performance makes this version, which was written in 1901, sound relevant and fresh.

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Maggie Gyllenhaal is exquisite perfection

I am an avid audiobooks listener and seldom do I write a review, but my experience needs to be shared. Maggie Gyllenhaal delivers a flawless - I mean flawless - performance of this, at times, burdensome story. Look, I knew this was a long book before I started, and I was in it for the long haul when Maggie began narrating. She does more than narrate. She performs the piece and makes it dance. The inflection and sharpness of her pronunciation of the French and Russian phrasing is flawless. You will enjoy this classic because she delivers it with exquisite perfection.

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Not to be rushed but to be savored

This is not the dull endless drama I read in college. Maggie Gyllenhaal brings every word to life. Tolstoy in spite my youthful opinion many years ago, created characters that are exciting, brilliant, often frustrating, selfish, funny and in many ways just like our own family members. I didn't want it to be over and I know I will listen to this again. Right now I wish I could talk to other readers to share all the deep thoughts and feelings this book awakens.

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Buy a Different Version!!

Maggie Gyllenhall does not do good as a narrator or voice actor, which is sad because she is a great actress. But she only uses 1 tone for a man, and 1 tone for a women, and it is soo difficult to tell when she transitions from narrations to dialogue. I heard this book is one of the greatest works of English literature, and the plot 9 hours in is good, but with Maggie's narration I can't tell which characters are doing what and have to constantly rewind to listen again. Not to mention she doesn't try to add emotion to the dialogue. I've listened to tons of books, and the voice actor/narrator can make all the difference. At the end of the day I'm getting a different version, because I simply cannot enjoy the book at this point.

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excellent classic, the only way to describe it

First time author for me. If you are like me, every once in a while it's a good change of pace to take on a long classic. You have to be in the right frame of mind but something clicks about a story and you go for it. For me, in this instance, it was narrator Maggie Gyllenhaal the actress. And, she did a great job. But in researching the story while listening I learned that this being a classic, Audible has seven full length versions of this audiobook, all with different narrators. How do you know which one to listen to? There are even two Russian version, one Italian, one Spanish plus abridged versions. I guess this is what happens when a book is a true classic.

At times it seemed that the title of the book is a misnomer. Yes, the doomed love story of Anna is central to the story but there is much more to it. There is the farmer Levin who is questioning his faith the entire story, trying to decide if he's a Believer or Unbeliever. But it's also a time piece of Russian history. Tolstoy wrote this in the 1870's and writes about many facets of Russian life at the time. The Serfs of Russia, most of the people, had been freed from serfdom which was basically slavery. They were now called peasants and had to be paid a wage for their work. Under serfdom Russian agriculture had been a profitable venture for the elite of Russian but now with freedom productivity had gone down and profitability was out the window. The term communism was already being used so the coming revolution wasn't something that dropped onto Russia out of the sky. There was much discussion on the equitable distribution of all things for the good of the people. In many ways these issues still exist in current day Russia.

Tolstoy himself was born into the aristocracy of Russia. Since he touched on so many subjects you had to wonder if he wasn't one of those questioning the status quo. He apparently embraced religion and spirituality later in life and it seemed he may have been espousing his questions and views on the subject a he devotes quite a bit of the story to this topic.

All in all, this is a great classic. When the time is right take the challenge and good luck on deciding which narrator to listen to. I don't know that I have a second listening in me just to try out a second narrator. But it is interesting to see how different narrators can put a different perspective on a story.

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Can't agree about Gyllenhaal

Wow! I hate to argue with sincere and informative reviews. I've always enjoyed Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actor and bought this book the day it was available. I expected and wanted to love it! And yet, partly because of the terribly outdated translation (1910), but mostly because of Gyllenhaal's pronunciation and diction, I just couldn't. Likely I didn't notice this in her acting since I've only seen her play a modern American and, let's face it, we don't speak very well. But for Tolstoy? No.

As a *performance*, only in terms of acting a character or emotion, Gyllenhaal's was good. She used variety and tone that gave distinctive life to characters and scenes very well (by no means consistently, though). That wasn't the problem. However, I wondered what the producer was thinking when s/he let her mispronounce words like "insuperable" and "appurtenances". Gyllenhaal didn't use the posh but universal (for that class and time) British and European Ma-MA and Pa-PA, but rather the Americanisms "Momma" and "Poppa" instead. In fact, Gyllenhaal was allowed to use a sloppy accent throughout: wanna, gunna, whaddaya, and so on.

Then there was her hard-to-describe treatment of certain syllables--I'm no linguist, but I'm sure there's a word for it--a swallowing of letters that ought to be distinct. This is an awful example, but I didn't take notes and can't think of a better one right now: not "EN-glish", with emphasis on the first syllable, but the "g" distinctly pronounced to start the second; but rather "Eng-LISH", without really emphasizing either syllable and almost dropping the "g". Almost "ehh-lish" with something like a glottal stop where the "ng" should be. Since I can't think of a better example, I suppose there can't have been much of this, but it was certainly distracting and annoying when it did happen.

Finally! This is Gyllenhaal's constant and very marked substitution of "d" for "t" in the middle of words: beaudy, udderly, fiddingly, etc. (And Tolstoy uses "utterly" a *lot*.) Worst of all, though, distracting to the point of hilarity, is giving the "young princess" Cherbetskaya a new nickname: '"Kiddy," he said tenderly...' !

Yes, over and over again, in what are meant to be some of the most moving and heartfelt passages of the book in particular, it's not "Kitty" but Kiddy, Kiddy, Kiddy! And very noticeably at that. Surprising at first ("Surely I've misheard?"--this before I'd noticed the substitution everywhere), then hilarious, then tiresome, and finally just horribly distracting.

I didn't *look* for these examples, you see. At first, I was determined to ignore them. I'd take off my earbuds or turn off the player (the problems are more noticeable with earbuds, but that's how I have to listen at night), and when I started to listen again it would be long enough that I'd have forgotten, at first. Not for long! Then I'd tell myself not to notice, let alone listen for, the "issues". That didn't work either, since the problem is so very distracting.

Every audiobook listener knows what that's like: you're happily in the middle of a wonderful experience, perhaps in another time and place, and suddenly, thwoosh! You're jerked away from the book, *distracted* from that marvellous submersion into elsewhere, other-than. It's the worst that can happen.

And that's how it was with Maggie Gyllenhaal and me. She was distracting. She ruined the mood. Sometimes I *could* forget: in the last chapters; during some of Anna's struggles with her husband. But suddenly, without warning, would come a Kiddy, or a "whaddawe gunna do", and the precious mood was destroyed. Again.

I can overlook this a time or two when rating an audiobook. I'm not insistent on a British accent for the European classics. I prefer an American accent to a phony British one.; I expected Gyllenhaal to speak American English. I also expected her not to mispronounce words which, if not exactly common, aren't arcana, either. They can be sounded out a time or two, if they are unfamiliar. There I blame the producer, though. These folks are paid to catch mispronunciations and to correct them. That could've been done with the dropped or slid-together letters as well. It would've been difficult to correct Gyllenhaal's entire accent, however; once she was hired, I suppose the "whaddaya"s and so forth had to stay... as well as the "beaudy"s And "udderly"s.

But Kiddy! True, drawing Gyllenhaal's attention to that alone would've alerted her to all the substitutions of "d" for "t" and possibly made her self-conscious. But she was so motivated, according to the comments she wrote for Audible! She truly seems to have wanted to do a good job--and she did!--as far as the *acting* goes.

Sadly, that's not enough--neither doing fine work acting while sounding like a gum-chewing waitress of the worst caricature in first-quarter drama, nor wanting to do a great job with your favorite book while ignoring everything but the acting. Don't drama schools teach diction and accents any more? I'm sure they do, so did Gyllenhaal go? I've never considered that important. I may rethink my position.

Ah well: bring on the "not helpful"s or just ignore me. I almost never write good reviews because when I love a book I can't explain why, so most of my (couple of book) reviews are negative, but for trivial reasons. Not this time! I expected so much, and to be derailed by such a seemingly little thing.

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I can't believe I finished the whole thing!

Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actresses of all time. When I saw that Anna Karenina was on sale a few weeks ago and that Maggie was the narrator, I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. I not only enjoyed her narrations but the story was interesting as well. It took me a while to finish the entire book but I did. This surprised me because I have been getting into a habit of not finishing books after becoming bored with them. This historical fiction classic was sad, funny and entertaining up to the end. I was surprised at how relative the characters are to modern society. I found Maggie Gyllenhaal's voice to be really relaxing and soothing. It makes the experience very enjoyable.

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Worst performance I have heard yet

I have been listening to dozens of Audible books for years now, and this might be the worst performance I have heard yet. Maggie Gyllenhaal is in my opinion destroying the entire book.

In the Youtube video posted on the book's Audible page she describes the recording as "I wanted to have a light touch on the way I played the different characters, because the way that somebody reading the book is imagining these people with their own voices, their own mind, is really part of the experience".

The problem is that THIS IS NOT HOW AUDIO BOOKS WORK. The result is utterly horrible. There are almost no emotions expressed by Maggie in her voice, there are few and short pauses, no whispers, no shouts and no anger in her voice where it should be. It's the most boring, tiredsome and utterly painful voice I have ever listened to. It's like listening to someone describing a cooking recipe.

I managed 6 hours in this book and was ready to give up when I decided to try the Audible recording by DAVID HOROVITCH instead.

It is SO MUCH BETTER! When David speaks there is emotion in his voice, you can feel the passion, anger and hopefulness of the characters in a way that Maggie could not even come close to accomplish. When Wronsky and Anna meets his voice adds an extra dimension to the experience, like any good actor adds to a theatrical role.

So, for anyone wanting to listen to this great book - stay far away from this recording and get the one from 2008 with David Horovitch instead!

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Really stunning

The voice of the actress is full of emotion but subdued,just like Tolstoy's prose. Beautiful production!!!

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