What Happened to Anna K – Irina Reyn [TSS]

Title: What Happened to Anna K.
Author: Irina Reyn
ISBN: 1416558934
Pages: 256
Release Date: August 12, 2008
Challenge: A to Z Challenge
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From the dust jacket:

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 a 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?

Exploring struggles of identity, fidelity, and community, What Happened to Anna K. is a remarkable retelling of the Anna Karenina story brought vividly to life by an exciting young writer.

The first question most people probably have about What Happened to Anna K.: is it necessary to read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina first? Yes and no. This novel’s story stands on its own; no real background is needed in order to understand the storyline. However, half the fun for me in reading this book was to compare it to the original and discern where Reyn found her inspiration. After all, Anna Karenina is almost four times the size of What Happened to Anna K. Obviously, Reyn chose to cut a lot out of her version.

Most of what was cut were subplots; Reyn was obviously trying to keep the focus on Anna, as well as on Lev and Katia. Anna is a very tragic character; in Tolstoy’s novel, it is clear she is a depressive and doesn’t exactly understand the nature of love. Reyn’s Anna is also depressed, but she seemed more difficult to sympathize with. She is very materialistic and never happy with what is in front of her. She seems to be very shallow and needs to be the center of attention at all times. It was pretty difficult to like her, but the question is, is that the point? Are we really supposed to like her?

The writing in What Happened to Anna K. is absolutely beautiful; Reyn is exceptionally talented and the story is very smooth. Adapting a novel such as Anna Karenina is a difficult task, and Reyn handles it better than expected. Though the storyline doesn’t translate as well to modern times, Reyn’s writing keeps the reader on a steady pace.

I thought the added cultural element of Russian Jews was very interesting. It provided a uniqueness to the story and gave the reader insight into a foreign culture. The story was more easily adaptable to the twentieth century through this lens – a tight-knit community where divorce is still frowned upon.

So, what’s the verdict? If you’ve read and enjoyed Anna Karenina (as I have), then I definitely think this is a book worth reading. If not, it’s no substitute for reading the original. I look forward to seeing what Irina Reyn does next!


  1. That sounds like an amazing book.

  2. This sounds like an interesting book. Perhaps once I read Anna Karenina, I’ll read this one, too. Thank you for the review.

  3. I’m glad to see you liked this book as I’ve thought about reading it several times. I did enjoy Anna Karenina although it was a huge book and seemed slow for me at times. It would be interesting to read a modern version. Thanks for the great review Swapna.

  4. This has been on my radar for a while now. I love Anna Karenina. Thanks for the great review!

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