Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Classic Revisited

What Happened to Anna K. - I loved Tolstoy's “Anna Karenina” so I was tempted by the title, and since I was already on a Russian kick I decided to try it. But why would anyone attempt to update a masterpiece? In Irina Reyn's re-imagining of the classic story, the characters are Russian Jewish immigrants living in Queens and Manhattan. Anna is married to a well-to-do older businessman named Alex, a marriage which has allowed her to escape the immigrant community of Rego Park, Queens, for an expensive apartment on the Upper East Side. But she is a romantic, and at a New Year's party given by her cousin Katia's family, she meets Katia's boyfriend David and is smitten. Meanwhile Lev, a former schoolmate of Katia's, has long harbored a secret passion for her.

Got it? It's Vronsky and Anna, Kitty and Levin. And it's not as if you don't know how it's all going to turn out (Spoiler alert: the number 6 train). So what kept me reading? Partly because I admired Reyn's cleverness. In the original version Anna inadvertently reveals her feelings for Vronsky to her husband when they are watching a horse race and she reacts emotionally to Vronsky's fall. In Reyn's version, David is running the New York Marathon when the fall occurs. Nice touch.

Reyn, herself an immigrant, creates a vivid picture of the Russian Bukharian-Jewish community in Queens. The restaurants and discount clothing stores, the rituals at weddings and parties, even the descriptions of Anna's wardrobe, all seemed grounded in reality. Her writing is full of humor, and she does good job of getting inside Anna's head, of convincing us that a twenty-first century American might struggle with the same passions and fears as a nineteenth century Russian. I would certainly never recommend that you read this book instead of the original, but it provides an entertaining re-invention and is a great reminder of the universality of Tolstoy's classic.

No comments:

Post a Comment