I have not read the original work by Tolstoy, and therefore cannot appropriately compare this work to the original. However, if Irina Reyn was attempting to make a novel that was more accessible than Anna Karinina, I don’t think that she really succeeded. If I had grown up in an immigrant community and if I had been forced to confront the problems of cultural expectations that Anna K. And Kitty do, then maybe I would feel more sympathetic to them. However, as the novel is now, I have a difficult time relating to these women. Don’t take this the wrong way- I have loved this class in part because it has given me a glimpse into another culture in a very intimate way, However, I felt that rather than giving the reader a culture that they can delve into and truly understand, Reyn says to us “Bukharian Jews don’t like to marry outside of their community because it would cause a degradation of their culture.” rather than letting the reader come to this conclusion and explore it themselves. She acts as a tour guide, rather than an unobtrusive guiding voice.
What Reyn does well is to show us how these women were viewed by their husbands – as shallow objects, as possessions. She some how manages to grasp this facet of the relationships. (Lev’s “love” for Kitty, his disillusion after their marriage, he wanted the idealized version of her that he had conjured in his head for all those years. In his mind, she was already his well before their marriage, and her inability to present to him this fairy tale women that he has dreamed up causes his disillusion. Kitty, this would have fit in perfectly to your essay!) However, I think that in attempting to portray these complex relationships that Tolstoy has created, she cheapens them. Anna and Kitty’s relationship is the epitome of this to me. After Anna starts her affair with David, Reyn implies the falling out of the two women… and then it is never mentioned again until Kitty desires to repair their friendship. The depth of their affection is never fully defined and the reader is left out of this part of the story. Reyn does this with almost all of the relationships, and I found it to be very irritating. I found the characters to lack any real depth or emotion. Anna K. was the shallow, femme fatale that the outside world portrayed her as. Rather than countering this perception by other character with real depth and character in Anna K., Reyn allowed her to be swept along by these shallow dreams of a fairytale ending – as though that was the only desire a woman could hold in her heart. Anna K.’s relationship with her son also was underdeveloped. There was the potential for Reyn to develop a female character who defied the role of motherhood, but instead she is just caught in the middle and appears as a bitch because of it.
Okay, now that I am done ranting, time to talk about Film, Fairytales, and Stories! Throughout the novel, various characters have obsessions with films (Lev), are referred to in terms of fairytales (Katia), or desire to live their life like a story book (Anna K.)
I found Anna K.’s desire to be like the characters from the books she had read to be quite ironic, for she was actually already the heroine of a novel Anna Karenina. This was the motivating factor behind all of her relationships, except for her relationship with Alex K. She want’s to be written into a story, into a fairytale. “Not understanding that Anna rejected the facts before her in favor of characters and situations and myths operating more vibrantly inside her own mind. That she lived most fully not in life, but on the page.” (Pg.123) However, she is creating a tragedy for herself in her attempt to make this fairytale come to life. In a blog post from the beginning of the semester, I discussed how women will strive to achieve the relationships they are presented with in fairytales, and how this sets them up for failure. Anna has spent her entire life attempting to mold herself into a model for a heroine, as though this will complete her somehow. However, in her attempt to imitate the women she reads about, she has conformed to what society prescribes. She has made herself the exact opposite of what a writer should want to write about, rather than novel and strange and exciting, she fits the mold of what has previously been written.
In my opinion, Lev’s obsession with French Films highlights the possessive way he views his wife and the ideal that he wants her to conform to. He does not take the time to get to know her before he falls madly in love, and therefore must do that after they get married.
That being said, there were some moments in their relationship that I truly loved. I love the scene when they first make love – the tender images that Reyn invokes, the fact that Katia actually likes having sex! (what a novel idea). “The more he got to know his wife, the more he grew to respect her; perhaps she touched areas he could not reach.” (pg.145) Lev’s gradual growing understanding of his wife and the respect that she wins with him is unusual in the story because it speaks of equality between the two. Though Lev is second only to Anna in his idealization of women and the world, he manages to have the empathy here to connect with Katia and understand her.