Thursday, June 21, 2012

Anna Karenina and The Nostalgic English Major's Online Book Club

 "I think... if it is true that
there are as many minds as there
are heads, then there are as many
kinds of love as there are hearts."
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I'm not a movie buff, yet I find myself drooling over the 
newly-released trailer for Anna Karenina
scheduled to hit theaters this November.

This isn't the first adaptation of Anna Karenina. 
It seems that every generation of Hollywood 
big-shots has tackled this epic love story.  
This version stars Kiera Knightley and Jude Law!  
With a screenplay written by the great Tom Stoppard
this adaptation should live up to the hopes and expectations 
of even the most discerning Tolstoy (Tolstoi!) fan. 

Greta Garbo as Anna Karenina in 1935
Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina in 1948
Tatiana Samoilova as Anna Karenina in 1967

Tolstoy's novel, Anna Karenina (also, Anna Karenin), 
is one of the great 19th century Russian novels. 
Tolstoy also wrote War and Peace, that 
1200-ish page epic that folks mention but never read.
Anna Karenina is shorter (less than 800 pages),
and thus, more approachable.

Dostoevsky deemed it to be "flawless as a work of art". 
Faulkner said it was the best novel ever written. 

At the Curious Book Shop we struggle to keep
this 134-year-old classic on the shelves.
 Anna Karenina and Tolstoy's stream-of-consciousness style 
influenced countless 20th century writers, including Virginia Woolf, 
Vladimir Nabokov, George Bernard Shaw... and Nicholas Sparks.

And what's not to like?

Imperial Russia's aristocratic society whirls around 
in a dizzying display of decadence, 
setting the stage for this tragic romance. 
Anna, trapped a loveless marriage to a distant Count, 
meets a young officer who turns her life upside-down. 

In classic Tolstoy style, this dark novel is full of tragic 
twists and rife with social and political commentary.

A young Leo Tolstoy, a few years before Anna Karenina.

What excites me most is the extravagant costuming 
and beautiful sets glimpsed in the trailer. 
It seems that young Mother Russia will play the grandest role of all. 

France, Russia and England personified in 1914.

 Marianne, Mother Russia and Britannia
are represented in this Russian propaganda poster 
of the "Triple Entente" allies of World War I. 
Lovely ladies have been used as powerful revolutionary icons 
for centuries, like America's Lady Liberty.

Russian literature and history scholars will NOT be pleased 
by historical inadequacies and inaccuracies, which occur 
in every period film based upon a literary masterpiece.
This is the Great Struggle of an Academic. 
These poor, intelligent creatures should be pitied, not mocked.
An uncommonly vast amount of knowledge can 
make it difficult to enjoy cinematic eye-candy.

I've never read Anna Karenina, but I've always wanted to. 
Reading a Tolstoy novel is a commitment. 
The book is thick! It certainly won't fit into my purse. 
If dropped, it could break my toes clean off. 
The simple fact that it is Russian gives it a Moby Dick-esque quality, 
as though it may be inscrutable without appropriate 
historical references and some Wikipedia research. 

I'm taking this opportunity to tackle one of the 
most intimidating books on my To Be Read list. 
I'll take it slowly, a few chapters at a time, 
with plenty of time to mull things over.
I have a few suckers friends who will come aboard, 
ready to be transported to 1870s Russia. 
If you're up for a rewarding challenge, read this with us!

If I have time, I'd like to take a close look
at Elif Batuman's recent bibliophile book,

Consider this to be the beginnings of 
 The Nostalgic English Major's Online Book Club.

And for the record, I would prefer to
read Anna Karenina over Les Miserables,
even with the new Les Mis movie in the pipeline.

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