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Go Behind the Scenes with Maggie Gyllenhaal

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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.

Featured Article: Essential Russian Authors to Know in Audio


Don’t be daunted by the towering reputations of Russia’s literary giants. Listening is the perfect way to appreciate the masters. Russia is a sprawling country with a rich and complex history, which is reflected in its literature. Whether you’re keen on brushing up on classic Russian literature or you want to find a new author to explore, we’ve rounded up 13 of the best Russian authors, classic and contemporary, whose work you should know.

What listeners say about Anna Karenina

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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.

76 people found this helpful

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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.

401 people found this helpful

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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.

172 people found this helpful

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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.

45 people found this helpful

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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.

21 people found this helpful

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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.

213 people found this helpful

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Audio book A+

I'm so glad I bought this in audio. It's so good from Maggie Gyllenhaal. I feel like this book is a difficult, and long read \listen but it is so worth it! I'm so excited to check this off my list.

16 people found this helpful

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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.

79 people found this helpful

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Really stunning

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

38 people found this helpful

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Returned after only one hour of listening

I adore Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actress, but she was a poor choice to read this book. It was impossible to discern which character was speaking as they all sounded exactly the same. Very disappointed.

10 people found this helpful

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  • S. Perry
  • 04-22-17

A book for reading

After listening to a few books, I realise that there are books that a great to listen to and books that are better to read (another example of one not to listen to Mrs Dalloway) because the language is so dense. Ci think this is one of those. I struggled to remember who the different names belonged to, and to keep attention to the plot. Tolstoy is an accomplished writer for sure, but I was thinking get to the point.

I don't think Maggie Gyllenhaal was the right reader, I found her a little monotonous and failed to keep my attention.
There was a lot I enjoyed about the book, but I did feel that Anna Karenina needed to get a grip and lacked empathy for her as a character at times.

34 people found this helpful

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  • L. Russell
  • 07-30-16

a dissapointment

I was really hoping for a riveting listen after reading audibles hype of this performance by Maggie Gyllenhall.
I fancied listening to another classic after becoming bored with crime and thriller reads that all began to sound the same.
My last classic listen was The Woman in White which I thoroughly enjoyed and had high hopes for the praise given to Gyllenhalls interpretation of this classic novel.
I d love to say I made it past chapter 12 but for me it just turned into one long sentence. It was read but not with any gusto or giving any difference to the characters. I found it a woefully dull rendition and returned it.

35 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous
  • 09-29-17

I loved this book and the narrator

I loved everything about this. The story is amazing, I love the way Tolstoy seems to see the world from all the characters points of view and sympathise with all of them. At first I found it odd that Maggie Gyllenhall doesn't put on accents for the different characters - she just reads them all in her voice - but after a while I liked it and it has the advantage that she doesn't shape your perspective on the character; whereas other narrators can really shape how you see a character, e.g. by reading them in a shrill or silly voice. Thank you Maggie for a beautiful performance that will stay with me.

10 people found this helpful

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  • jean fuller
  • 04-02-18

Flat narration of complex novel

Intersecting stories woven round doomed love affair but disappointingly passionless narration scattered with irritating mispronounciations

9 people found this helpful

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  • Mrs Pat McKnight
  • 06-19-19

Absolutely fantastic book.

I was in two minds about this book and reader due to previous reviews but bought it anyway. I am so glad I did. The story is wonderful and Maggie Gyllenhaal is in my opinion the best choice of reader. Her voice flowed through the book. I was in every room, every house with each character. It was like standing at the edge of the room listening in.32hrs is nothing for this kind of book. I was devastated when it ended. I will listen to this book many times. My next buy will be War and Peace. Can't wait.

2 people found this helpful

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  • platosdunce
  • 12-29-18

Excellent reading of classic novel

The reading is very well done, the story justly famous, the narrator distinguishes well between the characters and is particularly on form in conveying the pathos of Anna herself, the reality of love's imagined failure crossing into the romantic mania for grand statement and that burden of loss and guilt that remains for the survivor. For some British listeners the accent might become too severe but I didn't find it so. So if you want the feminine take this is to be recommended, if you prefer the male voice then the Horovitch version is also excellent.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Ray Woodward
  • 06-24-20

Absolutely stunning - a truly definitive performance.

Beautifully read, Ms Gyllenhaal gives truly rounded inner and outer lives to Tolstoy’s characters and sets the scenes so fully that the emotions and their development in the world they inhabit is so vividly set one can only feel oneself being fully immersed in their lives, their loves, intrigues, frustrations, jealousies… all their emotions are delivered with neither monotony nor unnecessary embellishment so that the whole work rises up from the page and transports you into the author’s Russia in a way that feel at once both authentic to the time and true to the eternal lives that we all live. It is a definitive production that shows what brilliance can be achieved when a great work is performed by a great actor in a great production. If there is one Audible work that I can recommend without hesitation it’s this.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-18-20

Excellent narration

Maggie Gyllenhaal was a wonderful narrator! She gave wonderful emotion to the characters. The story itself is full of rich characters and their wrestle with religion and love and relationships is thought-provoking and totally engrossing.

1 person found this helpful

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  • MVG
  • 11-12-16

So long

The OCD in me made me finish this even though it was nearly 40 hours. Maggie is cool and I like her so much I picked this book but even she can not make pages and pages on farming methods interesting and her French pronunciation is jarring.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Alan Wall
  • 10-31-20

Awful narration, never ending dull story

Many others have said it, but a HUGE detractor for me is Maggie’s insistence on not changing tone or pitch, despite what she’s reading. So shrill is the same as passionate etc etc. Genuinely terrible. As for the story. Far too much detail of farming etc, hardly anything on the real characters. It literally felt to me like it would never end. I got circa 60% through and gave up. Terrible.

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  • Brookethechicken
  • 10-11-16

The best way to experience Anna Karenina

There's no denying that Anna Karenina is a masterpiece, but like all masterpieces, it can also be a hard read. It's long. There are lots of people with confusing names. There are parts about politics that drag on and you have no idea why you're still reading. And did I mention it's long?
Though this has been one of my favorite books for a long time, I'm so glad I decided to listen to the audio version as I think it clarifies some of the things that can be missed in the reading of it. The names for one thing become a lot clearer when you hear someone else say them correctly.
Maggie Gyllenhaal does an outstanding job of the reading and is able to portray the characters and the feeling of each scene in such a perfect way. Some might wonder at the ability to carry off so many male voices without them all blending into one or not seeming masculine enough but she both articulates the individuals and expresses the male characters wonderfully.
Whether you have previously read the book or it's a new work of fiction for you, I highly recommend listening to this version of Anna Karenina.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Lauren
  • 03-26-19

Returning due to the narrator

By the 9th chapter I was almost asleep. While having a very smooth voice, there was very little emotion in the reading, and absolutely no distinction between character voices. This was confusing as the many character names are complex and tricky to follow on their own if it is your first time, as it is mine. I'm going to try a different narrator and hope for a more dramatic reading.

5 people found this helpful

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  • RCF
  • 09-21-16

Stunning and faultless reading of this classic

I've read and loved this book before but Maggie G's exquisite, intuitive, sophisticated reading gave this powerful story new depths. I highly recommend this to fans of Tolstoy and searchers of the perfect narrator. You've found her. Look no further.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Jodie Baker
  • 09-29-16

Long but worth it

I'm not sure I would have ever picked up Tolstoy in another format, but the performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal (particularly when she finds her rhythm a few chapters into the book) make this story not just digestible but utterly delightful. Unquestionably Tolstoy was a master of human insight, and his articulation of such diverse characters and their struggles ensure his observations transcend both time and culture.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Clau
  • 03-09-19

Worth it

Having tried and failed to read a different 'classic' long ago and taking into account how much I enjoyed M.G.'s narration of another (much shorter ) book, I decided to purchase this. It took a while to get into, around the end of part 3 is where it got much easier to 'read' for me. In spite of not loving most of the Levin chapters(honestly wondered why this wasn't named Konstantin Levin/Anna Karenina multiple times), I would still recommend this book.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-04-19

Lovely voice

I love Maggie’s voice she can speak French beautifully but her German was unrehearsed and awful! Story is classic.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Droo
  • 02-27-19

Perfection!

I have tried to read this book at least three times but could never get into it. It was only when it was read to me by the talented Maggie Gyllenhaal that I finally started enjoying and appreciating this book. M Gyllenhaal conveys the meaning that I was missing left to my own devices. If I did not find this audible version I doubt I would have ever read or appreciated this book,

1 person found this helpful

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  • Estefania Londono
  • 11-28-20

Time travelling to the 1800s, to Tolstoy himself.

Great interpretation of reader, the book is rich in characters and opinions, amazing insights on religion,politics,love and philosophy.

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  • Lisa
  • 11-25-20

So glad it’s over

The narration was outstanding and I really hope Maggie does some more. The book is a marathon and would be a test of endurance to read yourself. The first 3/4 of the story was enjoyable however believe it could have been cut short with Anna’s demise. She really ended up an irrational selfish whining junkie. The rest of the characters were one dimensional and cold. Way too much philosophical rambling.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-05-20

poor choice voice actor

Unfortunately, didn't think Maggie Gyllenhaal was at all the right choice to read this story.