Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Oh Anna...

That's what's going through my mind these days as I read Anna Karenina.  Expelled with a sigh, this thought goes through my mind in regards to Anna herself as well as in general regards to Tolstoy's love of verbosity and farming.

Don't get me wrong, for the most part I am enjoying the book... but it is clearly a book that is meant to be enjoyed, savored, lingered over.  I am mainly disappointed in my own 21st century desire for action, adventure and speedy reconciliation or closure.  (Reading the book on my Kindle*, however, has allowed me a to lend a certain touch of 21st century to the experience and also informs me that I am currently 59% of the way through the book.  This is excellent news because I was seemingly at 42% forever.)

That said, I am fascinated by 19th century Russia.  High society, politics, religion, and even the agricultural concerns all interest me.  My first exposure to pre-Communist Russia came in the form of The Brother's Karamazov a few years ago.  Since the extent of my knowledge of Russia could be summed up with the word "communism", I was very disoriented at first to be introduced to a complex society full of ideas and religion.  And unlike the typical historical fiction, these authors were recording the very complexities and ideas that were circulating, and eventually culminating in (or being defeated by), communism.  History in the making!

One of my favorite quotes so far has come from the (obsessive) studious farmer who is determined, through great amounts of (tedious) research, to revolutionize agriculture and peasant relations.  At one point he concludes,

"It was the same with the socialistic books: they were either beautiful but inapplicable fancies which had carried him away when he was still at the university, or they were improvements and patchings-up of the order existing in Europe, with which agricultural affairs in Russia have nothing common."

A couple of word substitutions and, as they say, there is truly nothing new under the sun. This alone was enough to endear me to Tolstoy and keep me reading.

*Several translations of Anna Karenina are available as free downloads, but I spent the $2.99 to get a Kindle-friendly version of the Maude translation linked above.  The Maude translation seems to be the number one choice of those who are willing to sacrifice the original Russian proper name forms in order to actually grasp who's who.

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