Anna Karenina (Russian: «Анна Каренина», IPA: [ˈanːə kɐˈrʲenʲɪnə]) is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in book form in 1878, and widely considered one of the greatest works of fiction ever written. It was initially released in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger.
A complex novel in eight parts, with more than a dozen major characters, it is spread over more than 800 pages (depending on the translation), typically contained in two volumes. It deals with themes of betrayal, faith, family, marriage, Imperial Russian society, desire, and rural vs. city life. The plot centers on an extramarital affair between Anna and dashing cavalry officer Count Alexei Kirillovich that scandalizes the social circles of Saint Petersburg and forces the young lovers to flee for Italy in a futile search for happiness. Returning to Russia their lives further unravel.
A second major plot line follows Levin, a character loosely based on Tolstoy himself, who rejects glitzy city life and those same social circles for his rural farm, but struggles with both his love for Kitty, who has rejected him, and with his Christian faith.
Trains are a recurring motif throughout the novel, which take place against the backdrop of rapid transformations as a result of the liberal reforms initiated by Emperor Alexander II of Russia, with several major plot points taking place either on passenger trains or at stations in Saint Petersburg or elsewhere in Russia.
Regarded as one of the finest examples of realist fiction, Tolstoy called Anna Karenina his first true novel (he called his other major work of fiction, War and Peace, more than a novel). His contemporary, the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, declared it "flawless as a work of art, " an opinion later shared by Vladimir Nabokov. American writer and Nobel Prize laureate William Faulkner, also described it as "the best novel ever written."
The novel has been adapted into various media including opera, film, television, ballet, and radio drama. The first film adaptation was released in 1911 but has not survived.