Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Part Four)

Fiction — eBook. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett. Project Gutenberg, 2010. Originally published 1877. 1441 pgs. Free download.

I finished Anna Karenina! I am both elated and relived as I managed to tackle a fear of Russian literature and finish a classic piece of (translated) literature spanning 1,441 pages. What a way to end 2011!

This post covers Part Six to the end of the final section, Part Eight, and will include spoilers because I cannot resist discussing the ending in this post. I will say this before moving into spoilers, please do not be afraid of this book. It is surprisingly accessible and my fear of Russian literature has been greatly abated by Tolstoy’s classic.

Am I the only one who thinks Tolstoy’s novel went out with a whimper? Part Seven ended with a “bang” in the form of Anna’s suicide whereas Part Eight ends with Levin deciding that he does not need a religious conviction to meaningfully orient his life towards goodness.

“I shall still be as unable to understand with reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.” (pg. 1440)

I understand Levin’s realization largely mirrors that of Tolstoy’s own struggle with religion but to not end the book with the title character seems an interesting choice to me. There was also no mention of Anna after her suicide despite the intertwining relationships of these characters. Odd choice, indeed.

Anna’s realization of her crumbling relationship with Vronsky was particularly poignant. There’s a particular phrase that came to mind while reading this – Anna has made her bed and now she must lie in it. Her flirtatious manner may have unconsciously aroused in Levin a feeling of love “yet as soon as he was out of the room, she ceased to think of him” (pg. 1239). She can wrap men around her finger and make them, and occasionally herself, fall in love. She realizes in Part Seven that she at one time felt something akin to love for Karenin but eventually stopped feeling this way for one reason or another and moved on to Vronsky.

“We are drawn apart by life, and I make his unhappiness, and he mine, and there’s no altering him or me. Every attempt has been made, the screw has come unscrewed.” (pg. 1343)

Now, her “love” from Vronsky has dissipated. She may appear to be jealous of him and worry that he has another mistress but it is really her jealousy that he has not lost his standing in society for the same actions. They both had an affair, they both had a child out of wedlock, and they both ran off together without obtaining a divorce. The cost for her, though, was much higher and now she has not only lost her access to the highest realm of society but also to her son, Seryozha.

“I thought, too, that I loved him, and used to be touched by my own tenderness. But I have lived without him, I gave him for another love, and did not regret the exchange till that love was satisfied.” (pg. 1343)

She claims that she love Seryozha more than her daughter with Vronsky, also named Anna. This may or may not be true to the realization that her relationship with Vronsky will never be enough to overcome that sacrifice of her son and the loss of her good name proves to be too much. At first, she turns to opium to alleviate her pain. Then, she decides suicide is her only escape. Interesting enough, though, it appears that she changed her mind during her (successful) attempt.

“And at the same instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. “What am I? What am I doing? What for?” She tried to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on her back. “Lord, forgive me all!” (pg. 1350)

And that’s the end of Part Seven. No clear moral message just a massive amount of commentary on hypocrisy, faith, fidelity, family, society, marriage, carnal desires, peasants versus elites, and religion. The translator of the Penguin edition, Rosemary Edmonds, wrote that one of the novel’s key messages is that “no one may build their happiness on another’s pain”. Anna tries to build her happiness with Vronsky on the pain of her husband and son; Vrosnky tries to build his happiness with Anna on the pain of Karenin and Anna herself. It’s a vicious, repetitive cycle. And thus we are brought back to the beginning of the novel:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (pg. 1)

Read-A-Long at Unputdownables:

I read this book for Wallace of Unputdownables’ read-a-long, which ran from October to December 2011. The book was divided into twelve sections to be discussed over twelve weeks. Each week, on Friday, participants were urged to share their thoughts about the previous week’s reading. The selection for January 2012 is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sign-ups are now up!

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Anne Frank by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón

Don’t make the same mistake I did; this is not the graphic version of Frank’s diary. Rather the book is a graphic biography starting with her father, Otto, serving in World War II and ending with Otto’s death in Switzerland in 1980. When the book does follow along with the diary, it steps back to provide the broader historical context of what was occurring outside the annex.

The illustrations themselves are interesting as they change throughout the novel. Some are translated from pictures of the Frank family and their friends while others are drawn from text when available or the authors own imaginations. Those copied from pictures are grainier and fuzzier than those Jacobson and Colón thought up for themselves. The graphics illustrating the horrors of the Holocaust accurately reflected the differences in the camps and showed the progression of Anne and Margot’s deteriorating health.

Some of the paneling for this graphic biography did not flow properly. There were parts where the dialog straddled two panels but was interrupted by more dialog within the panels. And in other sections were the dialog was written over multiple boxes, I wasn’t sure what the correct order to read the book in was. Some of the dialog seemed misplaced and I would occasionally end up reading it out of order.

However, the book does not replace Frank’s diary and is simply a new way to experience the story of Anne Frank. Many of her poignant observations are not included in this graphic biography. But the historical context does add new depth to the Frank family’s story that people may not know when they start the original diary. The reader is able to understand how and why the Nazi party rose to power and why Frank and her family moved into the annex, which is something I find is lacking for those who use Frank’s diary as the basis of their knowledge on the Holocaust.

Book Mentioned:

  • Jacobson, Sid and Ernie Colón. Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010. Print. 160 pgs. ISBN: 9780809026845. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Hill and Wang. Retrieved: December 29, 2011.

Museum of the Missing by Simon Houpt

Whereas coffee table books typically focus on a particular artist and the breadth of his/her works, this book focuses on those pieces that have been stolen from museums, action houses, and private homes around the world.

The title of this book comes from the mythical museum of all the stolen works of the world known as the “Lost Museum” or the “Museum of the Missing” to those who investigate art theft; the picture on the cover comes from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where the largest art theft in the world remains unsolved.

Gardner, when she turned her collection into a museum, required that nothing about the collection be charged – paintings cannot be sold or moved. Empty frames of the stolen works have hung in the museum since the theft beckoning visitors to ponder over the whereabouts of these missing works. Having visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I can attest that it gives the whole museum an eerie feeling. I was constantly distracted from those paintings that remain by the empty frames.

Subtitled “A History of Art Theft”, Houpt does a wonderful job tracing art theft throughout history from wartime plundering to the modern-day heists we’re used to seeing play out in the movies. Not only does Houpt examine why art disappears but he also explains why paintings, statues, and antiquities are not returned when found. The British Museum wanted to return art stolen from Jews by the Nazis but the British Supreme Court said the cultural value of this art outweighed any moral obligation to right the wrongs of the world. Of course, righting this wrong means the British Museum might be compelled to return antiquities plundered from Egypt. Interestingly enough, when I visited this particular museum, there was a large display about how the museum is working to prevent wartime looting from Iraq.

I certainly recommend this book if you are at all interested in art theft (or art history). It’s a great overview of the problem, summarizing historical and contemporary aspects with equal attention. I really appreciated the glossary of missing works (at least, those known as most thefts go unreported) with colored pictures and information on where and how the works were stolen.

Book Mentioned:

  • Houpt, Simon. Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling, 2006. Print. 192 pgs. ISBN: 1402728298. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Sterling. Retrieved: December 26, 2011.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

For those unfamiliar with Dickens’ classic tale, the story focuses on the grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who absolutely abhors Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Marley, who warns Scrooge about the errors of his ways and informs him that he will be visited by the ghost of Christmases Past, the ghost of Christmas Present, and the ghost of Christmases Future.

I decided to reread Dickens’ classic while stuck at the airport for three hours due to plane delays. I was on my way home and anxious to be back with my family and, because school ended so late this semester, I hadn’t been feeling in the holiday mood. While this book did nothing to ease my anxiousness, I was able to immerse myself in the spirit of the season.

I hear my dad’s voice whenever I read the first line of Dickens’ iconic Christmas story. I can only recall one time when he read the book aloud to my brother and I but it is always his voice I hear. It’s a comforting memory I hope I can hold onto forever because, as my grandparents age, I am realizing no one can elude death.

Something I did not know before reading the introduction to my copy is that Dickens wrote more Christmas stories than just this particular one. It became his most famous and is one of the rare books where the film and stage versions I have seen have stayed substantially true to the original text. (My favorite is the Muppets’ version, which is also a musical.) Maybe I’ll pick up some of his other Christmas stories next year.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Oak Park, IL: Top Five Books, 2011. Originally published 1843. eBook. 153 pgs. IBSN: 9780985278724. Source: Free download.
Book Cover © Top Five Books. Retrieved: December 24, 2011.

Answer Them Nothing by Debra Weyermann

Polygamy and fundamentalist religions are two of my own interests so I had to read it when I found this book available for download from my public library. Having lived in Texas during the YFZ Ranch raid, this book was particularly interesting because of its examination of just how hands-off the police and public officials are when it comes to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

For example, Weyermann charges that former Arizona Governor and now Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano let the FLDS go unchecked for years over worries that action against the group would ruin her carrier and turn conservative, Christian voters against her. Arizona isn’t the only state that turns a blind eye; judges, lawyers, and jurists in St. George, Utah are charged with are charged with being sympathetic to their Fundamentalist brethren.

There is also the issue of freedom of the press as the two largest newspapers in Utah, one directly published by the LDS Church, are both distributed by the same company. I’m not familiar with what “distribution” means but Weyermann charges that both papers present polygamy in a positive light because of the influence of the LDS Church.

This book, however, is difficult to follow as it swings from investigation of tax-invasion to underage marriages to the Lost Boys. Focusing on tax-invasion and monetary extortion may not be nearly as “flashy” as underage marriages but it is one thing that has been repeatedly overlooked by other authors and journalists, particularly the fact that Jeffs used public positions (cops, councilmen, firemen) to solidify his control of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. Weyermann also relies heavily upon memoirs written by ex-FLDS members (some of which have climbed the bestsellers list and others I had read for myself) rather than interviewing these people for herself.

Those who practice polygamy under the FLDS and other Mormon and non-Mormon religious groups say that outlawing the practice violates their First Amendment rights. The general public often falls under the sway of this argument, which is why the 1953 raid on Short Creek and the raid on the YFZ Ranch have often ended with the public turning against public officials who act against this group. But Weyermann argues that the sexual abuse of children, fraud, and tax evasion on a massive scale cannot be considered religious freedoms. Her book is not the best on the way this group works but it certainly is the most persuasive.

Book Mentioned:

  • Weyermann, Debra. Answer Them Nothing: Bringing Down the Polygamous Empire of Warren Jeffs. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. eBook. 304 pgs. ISBN: 1569765316. Source: Free download.
Book Cover © Chicago Review Press. Retrieved: December 23, 2011.