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Showing posts from October, 2008

I Finally Gave into the Russians

Having never forayed into the world of Russian authors – aside from Nabokov’s Lolita (but then, it was written in English) – I was tempted by the new Penguin Deluxe edition of Tolstoy’s classic novel with its French flaps, pliable spine, and rough cut pages.

My sole assumption about the book was that it was the Russian Madame Bovary, a story of a young married woman named Anna who has an affair with a man named Vronsky, and upon his desertion, throws herself under a train. Kit and caboodle. This assumption was not false, but it was overly simplified. Tolstoy had much more on his mind than a simple morality tale of love and betrayal when he penned Anna Karenina, which he considered his first attempt at the novel (disregarding his magnum opus, War and Peace).

This novel has been well-read and beloved for over a century, and I doubt that I could say anything new to demonstrate my new loyalty to such a classic. But as a new devotee to Tolstoy, allow me to encourage those who haven’t been f…

It was a Dark and Stormy Night in Yorkshire

I have seen people reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on airplanes for years, and decided that the autumnal Northwest provided a dark and rainy October perfect for reading Susanna Clarke’s bestseller. I was told that this book was cross between Jane Austen and a dark Harry Potter (with a bit of Cooper’s The Dark is Rising thrown in for good measure). This recommendation was not far wrong: like Jane Austen, Clarke’s book contains men in naval uniform, young women with and without inheritances, fashionable circles in Bath and London, and the importance of manners and decorum. Like Harry Potter, magic is often seen as utility, improved upon by rigorous study and practice rather than by an exploration of mysticism or divine gift. Also, like Rowling’s magical kingdom secretly inhabits the normalcy of everyday England, Clarke’s proper Georgian England is the unlikely (yet perfect) backdrop for magic of every kind.

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the novel begins with a small circle of …