... engaging and insightful ... packed with telling insights and details about Tolstoy’s life that shaped the direction of the book ... the product of a lifetime of study. It demonstrates extensive research and great learning and is written by a gifted storyteller. The good news is that the book is not simply an academic treatise and will appeal to general readers. Indeed, Blaisdell’s sly humor and deprecating wit add to the pleasure of reading it ... This volume is unlikely to be read by those who have never read Anna Karenina. But for those who have, Blaisdell offers intriguing insights and fresh perspectives that will no doubt lead some, including this writer, to reread Tolstoy’s great masterpiece with renewed appreciation.
The work of a Tolstoy superfan rather than a Tolstoy scholar per se, Creating Anna Karenina is an informal and chatty effort to understand what Tolstoy was up to in the four years he spent composing the novel ... his book is more of a playful experiment than a strict study. In its study of the comings and goings of the Tolstoy household at the time of the novel’s composition ... asks if one of the world’s greatest novels was in fact just as much a product of everyday minutia—like who stops by for a visit with what kind of gossip to tell—as it was the culmination of long-simmering ideas about morality and desire. The result is a work in many ways more instructive about the creative process than about Anna Karenina specifically, a consideration of how distractions, familial interference, and side projects resulted in Tolstoy writing one of the world’s greatest novels ... a view of Tolstoy’s life that makes the writing of Anna Karenina feel almost inevitable ... Perhaps Blaisdell has simply fallen for Tolstoy’s tricks, his feats of realism that make you forget you are reading a deeply plotted and contrived work of fiction.
...[an] entertaining micro-biography ...The book is a chronicle of distractions and peevish excuses that also shows how the consuming labor of procrastination became a crucial part of the novel’s texture ... Tolstoy’s endless side projects seem at first like nuisances deterring him from the single-minded production of art, yet it’s in the daily minutia, and the passionate convictions his characters could inject into it, that we find his great novel’s soul.