Title: The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature Author: Viv Groskop
Publisher: Fig Tree
Page Count: 224
Publication Date: 2017
Category/Genre: Non Fiction, Cultural, Memoir, History, Books about Books, Self Help
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.07)
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.0)
Viv Groskop has discovered the meaning of life in Russian literature. As she knows from personal experience, everything that has ever happened in life has already happened in these novels: from not being sure what to do with your life (Anna Karenina) to being in love with someone who doesn’t love you back enough (A Month in the Country by Turgenev) or being socially anxious about your appearance (all of Chekhov’s work). This is a literary self-help memoir, with examples from the author’s own life that reflect the lessons of literature, only in a much less poetic way than Tolstoy probably intended, and with an emphasis on being excessively paranoid about having an emerging mustache on your upper lip, just like Natasha in War and Peace
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going into this book. I was drawn to the idea of looking at the oft-intimidating but seductive themes and prose of Russian Literature. Add being able to revel in some analytical discussion and draw parallels using these works as life lessons, well, I was more than intrigued. I figured it would be something that was going to remind me that ‘things could be worse – look at these poor Russian authors and characters’ but it was much than that. It was a memoir, an introduction to Russian literature and it was entertaining.
Viv’s obsession with all things Russian drove her into deep in the throes of self-discovery and her unresolved conflicts but it also helped her find her way out too. As she recounts her experiences, she compares and aligns her life with much of the Russian classics – making these masterpieces accessible to all and relatable to modern day life and issues.
Russian literature often conjures up the image of the darkest dwellings of our souls. But Viv’s witty commentary made these masterpieces and their lessons so much more accessible. I found myself agreeing with the life lessons and re-checking myself to see if I have, and hopefully before, I was to wreck myself.
And it wasn’t just interesting facts about the great Russian authors or an introduction to the storyline of their most notable or controversial works –although it was that as well. It was a direct relation to her (and our own) experiences in life.
One of my favorite anecdotes from Viv’s experience in Russia was when she was required to do an interview with one of the head clowns from the circus who kept repeating – ‘not a clown’ (ya ne klon) throughout the interview. As her story unfolds, I was rolling in laughter before she brought home the poignant moral of the story.
No story makes sense if it contradicts what is in front of your face. On the other hand, in his own eyes, this guy was not a clown. The moral of this story is, I suppose… if you are not a clown do not dress up as a clown. Or in other words, sometimes other people can see more clearly who you are than you can. You might want to pretend to be something you are not but even if you can’t see through it, other people can. You can tell them as many times as you want that you are not a clown, but if you look like a clown, people will assume you are a clown. This is one of the most painful lessons in life. We all believe things about ourselves that are not true. Usually, these things reflect unresolved inner conflict. Often, we are not aware of them. Other people can see them from a mile off.
Unpretentious and entertaining, this book really helped me exam my past, contemplate my current status and encouraged me to pick up the great Russian classics. So before throwing yourself in front of a train or challenging your best friend to a duel, maybe give this a read for a less tragic solution and ending.