Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classics
Secondary genre: romance/drama
Format: audio
CW: infidelity, antisemitism, suicidal ideation, suicide, emotional and financial abuse
Rating: planchet-4

**This review contains spoilers**

Are you in the mood for a surprisingly modern classic novel that weighs roughly the same as a small child? Then have I got a book for you!

All joking aside, even on audio this book took me a good long time to work through. I had to start out with the narration on a slower (for me) speed (1.4x) while I adjusted to the Russian naming conventions (Russian names are weird. Familiarize yourself before you start reading Russian lit or you will be very confused as every has 3-4 names). About a third of the way through I was able to up it to my usual 1.8x.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this this book. Infidelity is one of my hot button issues; I will frequently DNF a book if it comes up. It drives me crazy for reasons I won’t get into here. But, despite being written by a white dude in the 1870s, it was refreshingly feminist (Spoiler: the feminism ends abruptly when Anna commits suicide because she can’t stand being scorned, separated from her son, or the fear of her paramour leaving her). Though society maligns our titular character for carrying on an affair and leaving her husband, the author questions why Anna is an outcast in society while her brother, who is a serial cheater and ends up abandoning his wife, is still welcome in all the best drawing rooms in St. Petersburg, leaving her to the mercy of her sister and brother-in-law.

At one point, there’s even a really great conversation about the working rights of women and if they should be allowed to own property, hold public office, or even vote. While the conversation ends on a sour note, I was surprised to hear the pro arguments presented by male characters in a novel from this time period.

There are also great arguments–both for and against–communism, education, religion, and the meaning of life.

I’ve never read any Russian literature before, but I did really enjoy Tolstoy’s writing (okay, it was in translation, but still. Really good), and I’m planning to listen to War and Peace over Christmas break.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Genre: Scifi
Format read: audiobook
Content warnings: racism
Rating: planchet-3

This novel from 1932 is somewhat disturbing to read today. No, scratch that. It’s definitely disturbing.

It depicts a near-future scenario in which all humans are bred in labs and genetically altered for their specific role in society. The family has been erased. So has religion, romance/love, and pretty much all intense emotion. Disease and poverty are eradicated. The “perfect drug” has been created that eliminates anxiety, stress, and depression with zero side effects.

The story flips back and forth between several different perspectives which makes it difficult to follow in the beginning, but it does provide a lot of necessary background and worldbuilding. Because this is technically a classic, I don’t want to get too much into the plot, since it can easily be found with a quick google.

I don’t know anything about the background of this book or what the author’s intent was. It can be take one of two ways: the “Brave New World” is an inevitable, utopian ideal humanity is working toward, or–and I think this more likely–it is a criticism of “modern” life (circa 1932), and takes the changes happening in society to an extreme. It reminds me of the arguments I heard against marriage equality prior to the federal ruling here in the states– “What’s next? People marrying dogs?” “They’ll force it on us eventually. We’ll all have to be gay!” (Yes, those are real statements I heard.) It’s a logical argument taken to an illogical conclusion.

It reads like a handbook of child abuse, brainwashing, and classism as young children are “trained” for their roles, including such techniques as depriving fetuses of oxygen and using electric shocks to teach those destined for “lower” ranking jobs that books are bad.

In addition, there is a “savage” reservation (roughly overlapping with the Navajo, Apache, and Hopi reservation currently in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah). In this book, however, “savage” does’t refer specifically to native populations (though they do make up the majority) but to any “undesirable” populations that refused to accept the new world order. To this end, the reservation is a melting pot that combines many cultures that no longer exist elsewhere in the world. It’s also the only place where people can still get sick and children are still conceived and born (as opposed to “decanted”).

And no one leaves.

Tourists are allowed in to observe the “strange and mysterious” behaviors, but those who live on the reservation will be killed if they attempt to leave.

I can’t go into too much detail here because it will set me off on a rant. This book disgusted and angered me. I hated reading it. I would almost call it traumatizing.

At the same time, I think the message it contains, particularly in the current international political climate, is something that deserves consideration.

Did I enjoy reading it? Absolutely not.

Was it important? Hell yes.

This is not a book to enter into lightly, so if you are having mental health issues, especially regarding anxiety, I would say to skip this. But if you think you can handle it, it does bring up a lot of good points.