When I re-read Anna Karenina this summer it got me thinking about the different ways literature works in different cultures and time periods. I’m a huge fan of pre-revolutionary Russian literature because it’s intense and complicated and was such a widely used vehicle for political and social commentary and dissent.
I love how politics and literature intersect in Russian novels. There are a number of historical and cultural reasons why that happened in tsarist Russia, and you can see it in books from other countries and eras as well. I don’t see it as much in current western literature, other than broad worldviews and the mildly annoying thoughtless irony/nihilism of writers who are trying too hard to be literary. That’s too bad, because when it’s well done literature is an excellent way to discuss issues and differences. However, doing that requires a lot of thought though, as well as a willingness to understand and sympathize with opposing viewpoints.
Anyway, Anna Karenina! I won’t talk your ear off about how it’s a political novel (although it is) or how it’s really long (although it is). I’ll just say that the characters and how they relate to each other and function in their positions (or in spite of them) make the book worthwhile. I chose to re-read the book because I wanted to remember it clearly before watching the movie and I’m interested to see how the film makers could possibly condense the many storylines into a coherent movie without losing the contrasts of the various relationships. I may report back after I’ve seen it.
Although I recommend Anna Karenina, if you have limited time to devote to Russian literature I personally prefer Dostoevsky to Tolstoy.
Have you read or re-read any classics lately?