Title: What Happened to Anna K.
Author: Irina Reyn
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
How I Read It: Hard cover purchased by me.
Synopsis: Vivacious thirty-seven-year-old Anna K. is comfortably married to Alex, an older, prominent businessman from her tight-knit Russian-Jewish immigrant community in Queens. But longing for freedom is reignited in this bookish, overly romantic, and imperious woman when she meets her cousin Katia Zavurov’s boyfriend, an outsider and aspiring young writer on whom she pins her hopes for escape. As they begin a reckless affair, Anna enters into a tailspin that alienates her from her husband, family, and entire world.
In nearby Rego Park’s Bukharian-Jewish community, twenty-seven-year-old pharmacist Lev Gavrilov harbors two secret passions: French movies, and the lovely Katia. Lev’s restless longing to test the boundaries of his sheltered life powerfully collides with Anna’s. But will Lev’s quest result in life’s affirmation rather than its destruction?
My Review: I purchased this book awhile ago, while I was still in the middle of the original Anna Karenina, anticipating wanting to read a modern take on the story. Early on, I thought it would be interesting to see how it could translate to a contemporary setting, how it might compare and what may be different due to technology and possibly location.
The first thing I noticed was how well the author managed to capture the same tone that existed in the original novel. It’s hard to describe, and maybe the tone exists in the original because it’s a translation, but I got the same feel out of this novel and I really enjoyed that.
Those familiar with Anna Karenina will see the pattern, as this is a retelling and follows a very similar arc, just in a much more condensed fashion. I liked that it was shorter, since the original is so long and can be plodding at times, but I actually wish it had been a bit longer to give more background into what made Anna so unhappy in her marriage and caused her to embark on her life changing affair.
I generally consider Anna to be a sympathetic character, but her marriage seemed so common place and it made me wish for more insight into why she left. I get it if she was just bored and that caused her to stray, I just wanted more meat to the topic.
That being said, I actually found Anna to be pretty annoying throughout much of the book. Her jealousy seemed even more unfounded in this version, and her actions made less sense, making her seem more the villain in her own tale of misery. At no point did she seem satisfied with anything, seemingly using all the men in her life to get to a happier situation, and never arriving at it because she wouldn’t take the time to sit and think about things. I’m even more frustrated with her now than I was before!
One thing I did miss from the original was the large cast of characters and how they all wove together. This novel takes place primarily in Russian neighborhoods in New York, so there were a lot of Russians in it, but part of the tragedy in the original was that the family and their level in society was so closely knit that Anna was very isolated. A modern telling of the story, without Anna having a brother and as many family ties, made it more difficult to see why she was so unwilling to leave New York with David and start a new life.
I enjoyed this story, and do wish there was more of it. Obviously there is no need for a sequel, given the way the whole thing unfolds, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a prequel or perhaps Katia’s story separate from Anna’s. On the whole, this was a nice abbreviation of Anna Karenina, something I would recommend to people who want a shorter version of that story.
Read this book if: This is one that’s probably better borrowed than bought. I did like it, but I doubt I’ll find myself reaching for it again anytime soon.
My Rating: 3/5 – Two thumbs up, fine holiday fun!