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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, September 2016 - July 2016 - Something magical happens when a great performer narrates something he or she truly loves, as is the case with Maggie Gyllenhaal, who told us before recording that Anna Karenina is one of her all-time favorite novels. (It also happens to be a huge favorite of pretty much the entire world, being named the "greatest book ever written" in a recent poll of leading contemporary authors, as well as a personal favorite of Nabokov and Faulkner.) However, despite my love of the classics, I hadn't tackled this one until picking up Gyllenhaal's marvelous rendition, and now I can't imagine experiencing it any other way. She conveys the pulse-racing breathlessness of consuming love and the sighing breathiness of a bored aristocracy with equal precision, and she untangles Russian names that my reader's eye might have struggled to articulate. She takes great care with this great work, delivering one of the best performances I've ever heard. —Emily, Audible Editor

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.

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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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.

29 of 29 people found this review helpful

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  • Lawrence
  • Monroeville, PA, United States
  • 07-22-16

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.

71 of 76 people found this review helpful

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  • Stevon
  • Tempe, AZ, United States
  • 01-16-17

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.

9 of 9 people found this review 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!!!

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • dskalzzz
  • Winston-Salem, NC USA
  • 08-10-16

Maggie Gyllenhaal was Outstanding!

Beautiful Narration of a deep, melancholy story. So much emotion, so much pain, so human.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Struggles of life

This is the story of human struggle to understand love and hate, good and evil, doubt and fear, responsibilities and consequences, and mans very existence while living through the pains of living. Tolstoy is a master story teller and has an understanding of the inner thoughts of men and women. Excellent.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Poor narration

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Maggie's voice is Lovely, but I can't stick with the audio because she doesn't differentiate enough between the different character voices. I keep getting lost.

Would you be willing to try another one of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performances?

maybe in an all female cast of characters

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Fabulous Performance by Gyllenhaal

My pleasure in listening to Maggie Gyllenhaal's narration was so great that I posted a review just a few hours into the book. My joy only increased as I neared the conclusion. Much has been written over many years about Tolstoy's book, so I won't mention it here except to say that the tedious story is brought to vivid and abundant life by Gyllenhaal. Well done.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Zero character differentiation

I don't think I'll every try another of Maggie Gyllenhaal's products. While she annunciates well and has a nice voice, she does absolutely nothing to differentiate between characters. No accents, tones - nothing. If you're not paying close attention, it can be very difficult to tell what's going on.
As far as the story itself, it was okay - it is extremely meandering and spends lots of time explaining events that don't seem to matter to the overall story.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Extraordinary Book! A "must read"

I have heard about this classic book for many years, but now I know for myself what an extraordinary writer Tolstoy was. The story is about more than just Anna Karenina's complex relationships and life, but about the lives of other central characters that you will soon care about and grow to love.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • gary
  • 11-29-17

Anna Karenina

Wonderful story, Tolstoy at his finest and a stunning narration by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Loved every minute!

1 of 1 people found this review 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.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-21-17

Amazing narration of classic

Maggie Gyllenhaal's performance is absolutely perfect, her voice is exquisite and fits the story so well.
The book is of course an absolute classic. It is very lengthy though and goes into great detail about a lot of characters, so only take it on if you know you can invest enough time at once.
Overall, loved it.

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  • lizzie nelson
  • 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.

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  • Ruth
  • 07-01-17

Fantastic!

This is a brilliant reading of a classic exploration of human nature, totally absorbing and engaging

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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.

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  • k
  • 04-08-17

Brilliant narration

No other voice would have done justice to this Magnificent piece. Maggie Gyllenhaal enriches every segment and every character with a unique voice, which keeps you glued to the narrative. Felt every bit of emotion and empathy with each of the brilliant characters. Tolstoy has captured the political, moral, gender aspects of the Russian society, prevalent at his time and that are still very much relevant. Highly recommend to embark upon this journey of the author!

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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.

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  • Richard Austin
  • 08-30-16

Anna Karenina meets Dalas

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Better translation from the original in English rather than American english. you just don't get the sense of aristocracy without an upper class accent !

What will your next listen be?

Just started the Silk Road.

How could the performance have been better?

See comments above

You didn’t love this book--but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Yes , I was able to turn it off.

Any additional comments?

Dissapointed, I had been looking forward to listening to this book, but after thirty chaptors it still hadn't improved so turned it off!

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-25-17

Anna Katenina

Got a bit lost with some of this. Could have done with knowing a bit about the Russian revolution before listening.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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.

2 of 2 people found this review 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruth C Fogarty
  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Juy Hepner
  • 10-29-17

It's a bit like Polanski's movie Bitter Moon

By the time you get to Anna's melt-down in the second last book it's quite mesmerising (and Maggie Gyllenhaal is to be commended for this more than for any of her movie work) how deeply she captures the irresistible slide into despair and the hangman's inversion of Anna's perspective, where anything beautiful in the world becomes an evil farcical inversion of its former innocent self. Her interpretation of the toothy grin of Vronsky which once radiated dig-like live and devotion, now eminates a mocking hatred, and even children playing In the street are tarnished with idiocy and ugliness to her. The journey from her initial dallying seduction to her ultimate hysteria is a ghastly dark magic incantation, woven with the skill of a white witch.....on a more mundane note I should say that Tolstoy is a pain to read with all his long Russian names and then of course everyone has a diminutive name as well. Then there is that epic aspect by which I mean he uses characters as vehicles for moral pontification on politics and religion and the class-struggle. None of that is extraordinary and you get better characters-as-foils for political and social commentary in other novels from the 1800s such as Dickdons' A tale of 2 cities (having said that I haven't read/listened to War and Peace yet, which I hope will prove me wrong). The character Levin is clearly meant to represent the author, and all his struggles with romance and faith, and his pathetic dabblings with suicidal thoughts stand as a very mauve backdrop to the real psycho of the story - Anna! It's worth the 35 hours just for her. I wish I could have jumped into the book, pulled her back from the train, slapped her in the face, got her drunk on vodka, and told her that all men are much the same!

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  • Jui-Yu Hsu
  • 10-16-17

Great story line, good performance

Maggie Gyllenhaal gave a good performance. But seems on several occasion they had to re-record some words, and wasn't attached properly, strange pauses and change of voice. But still highly recommended.

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  • tom
  • 08-23-17

Russia with love

i tried reading this story in high school and didn't make it very far, the second time around it had something for me that i couldn't see before. the insights into different ways and representations of love are beautiful and descriptive and the philosophical tangents are intriguing and engaging.

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  • Claire Ritchie
  • 08-07-17

Neverending non-story!

If I wanted opinions on tsarist Russian agrarian policy I would have got a book on that... Struggled to finish.

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  • Tristan
  • 06-02-17

Maggie Gyllenhaal does one of the best novels of all time justice

I've got to admit, I was skeptical as to how well any single voice actor could capture the range of emotions and characteristics that Tolstoy weaves into his characters - especially considering how the focalisation changes from male to female perspectives so rapidly. But Gyllenhaal delivers a performance for the male and female characters that is natural, seemingly effortless, and utterly immersion-retaining. If you have any apprehensions as to the quality of the narrator that would prevent you from getting this version of Anna Karenina, cast them aside and fall headlong into the passion and drama of the highest Russian aristocratic circles

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-18-17

Long but so insightful and relevant

A really well read classic! So insightful into the workings of a variety of human minds. Regards relevant despite having been written so long ago. Excellent!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-04-17

Boring

Narrators voice sent me to sleep , story was too hard to follow , boring boring boring