"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.
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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.
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.