Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Anna Karenina I-IV ~ Leo Tolstoy

So for the past few weeks, I've been tackling Anna Karenina, one of Leo Tolstoy's lengthy Russian classics.  And oh boy is it lengthy.  After all these weeks, I've just hit the halfway point, but I think I'm finally hitting my stride: I finished 100+ pages in the last 48 hours which for a book like Harry Potter isn't saying much, but for a novel filled with a seemingly unvaried variety of Russian names is quite a feat indeed.

I'm reading that translation, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, that came out about ten years ago (which is nearly how long I've had this sitting on the shelf*) and which apparently is what made AK famous, thanks to Oprah**.  I have no opinion if this is a good translation or not, as I have never read another translation of AK, but I do have this advice for the translators: When providing a handy guide to confusing Russian character names at the beginning of your translation of an 817-page Russian novel, and a female character is single on page 1 but not on page 817, please only give her unmarried name.  Otherwise, you will severely limit your readers' desire to read all 817 pages.  Enough said.

As of now, my opinion is that the book is okay.  Sometimes it grabs me and I read for hours and sometimes I can't get through more than three pages without taking a Words With Friends break (my username is jlmarck if you want to play with me).  Part of what usually makes it hard to read more than a few pages at a time is that the chapters are ridiculously short, providing excessive reading breaks.  Chapter breaks between perspectives are fine, but multiple chapter breaks during one character's perspective that only lasts fifteen pages anyway and don't seem to have any purpose is just unnecessary and leads me to wonder how many pages shorter the novel would be without those few blank lines and lines with big chapter numbers on them and then I'm not even thinking about the book anymore and that's a problem.

One moment in the novel that I really loved was when one character realizes that he and his beloved had the same dream the night before.  You might think that this is ridiculous, but for years now I've hoped that my husband (then-fiance, then-boyfriend) would start sharing our dreams, so when Count Vronsky (yes, each mention of the many counts in this books does make me think of vampires) and Anna share the dream about the creepy French-speaking muzhik (which I think means peasant except sometimes Tolstoy says peasant and sometimes says muzhik so I'm not sure because sometimes he uses proper names and sometimes familiar names and maybe it's the same kind of thing?), it tugged on my heartstrings even if it did make Anna think that she was about to die.  Unfortunately, the only relatable dream-related thing I have to say here is that about four days into reading AK, I woke my husband and myself up crying because I had dreamed that he cheated on me (thanks to the excessive adultery in the novel).

To wrap this up before I tell you about my other upsetting dream from two nights ago, I'll just end on this note: part IV has the least satisfying ending of anything ever.  Perhaps I could have written a better midway review if I wasn't too busy shouting "WTF Tolstoy, what about Seryozha (thank you, poorly-planned character reference page)?!?!"

*Thank you TBR Challenge.
**It is my rather unoriginal humble opinion that Oprah should support modern, previously "undiscovered" writers because a) We already know we're "supposed" to read things like Anna Karenina and Great Expectations and b) If she likes books so much, she should try to help make it a non-dying art, and shouldn't let people like Jonathan Franzen (who I always confuse with Jonathan Safran Foer) stop her.  Just sayin'.


  1. You're doing much better than me! I have been reading it for...well, this is my 4th week. I'm just into Part II now and thinking about reviewing each Part separately. Your warning about Part IV makes me slightly nervous!

  2. !! Oh no! Aww.. crying.. I remember this status on Facebook, hah.

    The confusion of Russian names reminds me of a Gilmore Girls episode where Dean complains about that book that Rory wanted him to read by Tolstoy. All their names sound that same, how is that possible?!