Thursday, September 04, 2008

My Life With Tolstoy


When did I fall in love with Russia? When, at age 9, I rode the Trans-Siberian? The dense birch forests, both graceful and ominous, the little girls' bows holding their braids, the extraordinary kindness of the people of Moscow, the whimsical onion-domed churches...
Or was it 3 years later, when my mum bought me a copy of Anna Karenina?
I have lived with Tolstoy's books ever since, reading Anna Karenina in several different translations. I even made a pledge to re-read that supreme work every summer. It's like being reunited with old friends, and as I mature, I appreciate more some characters, such as Kitty, whom I used to find annoying.
This year however, I bailed out and read instead a new novel, What Happened To Anna K. by Irina Reyn. It's a bold attempt to re-imagine Tolstoy's novel, in the Russian Jewish community of Queens, NYC. Her Anna is much more Emma Bovary than Karenina in my opinion, but I guess that one of the reasons that Tolstoy's work is so extraordinary is because it allows each one of us to read it differently and see things in it others may have not imagined.
Next stop in my life with Tolstoy: re-read War and Peace, this time in the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I'm eager to see Natasha!

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

oh i know i am getting back into re-reading as well...
and i do love Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (and Flaubert's Madame Bovary) but i am not sure how i would like to relocate them both....????
nancy

My Castle in Spain said...

I'm impressed by the fact you read several translations of Anna Karenina. I love that ! I read it in my school days. Then last year, i bought a nice edition by Everyman's library at a fleamarket and spent some very nice autumn nights rereading it.
I am very curious about the new novel you're mentioning.

ps: same as comment as above...Emma Bovary to me isn't close to Anna k.She's not driven by passion and merely suffers from the dullness and ennui of her provincial life

When the Robins Came... said...

..thank you.-)

mansuetude said...

Great book. If it were me reading I would pick Madame Bovary over Karenina to visit again--somehow I dwadled in and around Flaubert's sentences more with a sense of awe. So maybe its Flaubert I want to visit. :)

Tell us about the choice of your translations. If you would. Please.

Rina said...

que lindo post, quiero leer Tolstoi de nuevo, es verdad que cuando uno vuelve a releer los libros depende el momento en que estas, se disfrutan de manera diferente, hasta los personajes son diferentes. Gracias por el reminder.

tangobaby said...

Maybe that novel could segue me into reading Tolstoy... I admire your love and devotion to these books.

Mary-Laure said...

NANCY - I'm glad you share my love for Flaubert and Tolstoy.

MY CASTLE - oh I'm sure it's a lovely edition! I love finding old books at flea markets.
I exactly agree with what you say. Emma is driven by frustration and impossible dreams, whereas Anna is a happy woman before she meets Vronsky.

MANSUETUDE - Flaubert is my favorite French writer (with Colette), though my favorite book by him is "L'education sentimentale".
The BEST translation of Anna Karenina is that by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Before that, I think translators were much more re-writers who shunned what they deemed "bad style", such as Tolstoy's typical use of repetitions. On the contrary, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky did a great job at recreating Tolstoy's genuine style and it sounds SO fresh!!

RINA - "cuando uno vuelve a releer los libros depende el momento en que estas, se disfrutan de manera diferente": si exactamente, a uno le llama la atencion cosas distinctas.

Bonbon Oiseau said...

you are too cool...maybe i'll bring what happened to anna k. on my trip...or maybe just cozy up with anna k herself--you've inspired me!

MelancholySmile said...

Two of my brothers spent a few years in Russia and now speak Russian fluently. Me: I've never even read Anna Karenina, though I saw the movie. You inspire me to start!

karina said...

I have read short stories by Tolstoy.
My therapist used to call me Anna Karenina, I hate Emma Bovary maybe because I was a bit like her decades ago.
I have never been in Russia,I would love meeting you there and walking around Moscow streets while you talk about Russian authors.

ashley said...

thanks for the woody allen recommendation-have not yet seen that-but is on the rental list now;)
hope you have a lovely week-end...

A World in a PAN said...

You have a full schedule!

morphidee said...

Oh, oh, I bought their cd about 4 days ago. Its so lovely. Though there isnt a specific song yet that jumps out for me. and aw, my roommate, she hates sigur, so i cant play it all day, though i would love to.
im not sure if i can ever like a sigurcd more than takk. saeglopur is just too fantastic.

nadia said...

it is my true love~

Alya said...

I read War and Peace and my next one is Anna Karenina.

Are you on Goodreads? Because I noticed you read a lot, and Goodreads is an amazing place for readers and book lovers.

Mary-Laure said...

BONBON OISEAU - Where are you going off to? I hope you'll let me know what book you brought with you...

KARINA - I don't like Emma Bovary much either, actually. But Anna is wonderful!
It would be great to walk around Moscow together, but in the meantime I hope we can get together in Buenos Aires?

NADIA - me too... tell me more!

ALYA - no, I don't know Good Reads, thanks for the tip, I'll look it up.
You'll have to tell me if you like Anna Karenina better than War And Peace, people are very passionate about this.

karina said...

YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!
Are you coming???

Joanna said...

I love goodreads! I just discovered it, and I'm already addicted.

jeana said...

hello - I have tried to get through Anna Karenina a few times now - and its certainly not for lack of interest that I haven't yet - I think it had more to do with pregnancy and young children... but I now feel inspired to try again after reading this post! Thank you also for saying hello at my blog today :)

Mary-Laure said...

KARINA - I hope to visit Buenos Aires some time in the months to come...

JEANA - go ahead, I hope you like it this time around! There's a great reading guide on Oprah Winfrey's book club website, with helpful character lists etc.

Line said...

I love this kind of reading passion! I know many literature addicts, but I have still not met anybody that wants to re-read "War and Peace." So cool that you do, maybe I should give it a try myself, after all ...

Rebecca said...

I have...enjoyed, suffered?...a fascination with Russia ever since I was a wee girl. Enjoyed because I have enjoyed it - immersing myself in thick novels and slim volumes of poetry, feasting my eyes on wonderful photographs and attempting to learn a language so different from my own. Suffered because I have never actually been to Russia, and now I am scared that if I do go, it won't measure up to my expectations!

I read Anna Karenina (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky version) regularly from the age of twelve to sixteen, and then again last year when I did a 19th century Russian literature module. What I like about Tolstoy (especially in War and Peace) is that you don't feel so much that you are reading a book, but living it. I used to sit in the school library, oblivious to all else, when really I was in a burning building with Pierre or picking mushrooms in the country.

Thank you so much for your comment on my blog - I hope that you enjoy the scones (with or without mars bars!)

Stephanie said...

I am adding this to my to-read pile immediately - I am intrigued by these re-imaginings of classics (like Rhys' The Wide Sargasso Sea ...). I love Tolstoy, and also have a fascination with Russia and Russian literature (but no ride on the Trans-Siberian to blame, only too many viewings of Dr. Zhivago in my formative years.)

I got the Pevear and Volokhovsky War and Peace recently, and have been saving it for a good re-read this winter, when the days get short and my attention span grows long. I struggle a bit with Natasha, especially at the end - I sometimes think she is more like a man's imagining of a woman than an actual human being.

(PS: I love your icons!)

lovingcjm said...

I am impressed! I purchased this book a few months ago and have yet to start it... it scares me! This post has made me want to go pick it up though, thanks for that!

Mary-Laure said...

REBECCA - I am so happy we share this passion! And I admire your learning this wonderful and musical language.
But do go to Russia if you can, I'm sure than even if it's not what you imagined, you will find many wonders and surprises there.
And I agree 100%, you LIVE in Tolstoy's books (hence the title of this post), they are worlds in themselves, genuine microcosms.
Which one do you like better, War & Peace or Anna Karenina?

STEPHANIE - I love Wide Sargasso Sea too!
You know, I feel the same about Natasha, I remember being shocked by the end of the book, when Natasha is so... different!
That's one of the reasons I want to re-read W&P, to see if I feel different about Natasha at the end of the novel!

LOVINGCJM - don't be scared, Tolstoy's characters will welcome you into their world.

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