Anna Karenina

Greta Garbo playing Anna Karenina

Greta Garbo playing Anna Karenina

I finished reading Joel Carnegie’s translation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina a few days ago.

This isn’t a review. What could I offer that thousands of other reviewers haven’t?

However, I will point out three things that stuck out at me:

1) This was an eminently readable book.  This undoubtedly has much to do with Carmichael’s translation. For example, according to his notes, he spent a great deal of time deciding on the most natural method of referring to characters’ names.

The Russian style of referring to people by “Name Son/Daughter-of-Parent,” such as “Ivan Petrovich” (Ivan Son-of-Peter), simply sounds foreign to non-Russian ears, so he changed that throughout the book. The result still captures the author’s intent, which is not to confuse readers.

2) To paraphrase my mother’s reaction to the book, I never thought there were so many thoroughly modern people living a hundred years ago in Russia. I felt their pain and frustration as thoroughly as I do my friends’.

3) Anna Karenina is a strongly moral story. Characters make mistakes and live with them. The book is careful not to judge them, and just as careful to point out the consequences of immoral behavior.

And finally, an obligatory note to all you struggling writers out there: When Anna Karenina was first published, the critics dismissed it as a “trifling romance of high life,” according to Wikipedia. Ha!

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