What Happened to Anna K (Reyn)

Book Reviews
It takes a lot of self-confidence to suggest that your first novel is a modern-day retelling of Anna Karenina. But once you're finished marveling at Reyn's audacity, her formidable storytelling gift sweeps you along and keeps you turning the pages in rapt anticipation, even as you're aware that the sound in the distance is the rumble of that inevitable approaching train.
Jeff Turrentine - New York Times


Set among early 21st-century Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City, Reyn's debut beautifully adapts Anna Karenina's social melodrama for a decidedly different set of Russians. Anna, 30-something with a string of bad relationships behind her and a restless, literarily inclined soul, is wooed into marriage by the financial stability and social appropriateness of Alex K., an older businessman with roots in her Rego Park, Queens, community. As Anna chafes at her unromantic life, trouble hits in the form of David, the hipster-writer boyfriend of her sweet, naïve cousin, Katia. The furiously flying sparks between Anna and David provide cover as Katia is quietly pursued by Lev, a young Bukharan Jew who, like Anna, is a dreamer whose relationship with the émigré community is fraught. Reyn's Anna is perhaps even harder to sympathize with than Tolstoy's original, but Reyn's sparkling insight into the Russian and Bukharan Jewish communities, and the mesmerizing intensity of her prose, make this debut a worthy remake. Lev's and Anna's divergent trajectories and choices illuminate how perilous the balance between self and society remains.
Publishers Weekly


All positive reviews are alike; each negative review is negative in its own way. Fortunately, there's no need to be negative here. Tolstoy himself would surely have given a nod to Reyn's re-creation of his Karenina, transported from glittering czarist Petersburg to Rego Park, Queens (a tragedy in itself!). Meet beautiful, alluring, Jewish Anna Roitman, who languidly accepts the proposal of Alex K., a Russian immigrant who's made good enough to escape the outer boroughs and establish himself on Manhattan's Upper East Side. You know the rest: wealth, childbirth, boredom, a new lover, and Anna K. forsakes home and hearth for her modern-day Vronsky, a struggling, ne'er-do-well writer and his six-story walk-up. First novelist Reyn, whose stories have appeared in Tin House, One Story, and the LA Times, among other publications, deftly fleshes out her unerring version of the Tolstoy classic. Equally absorbing is her pitch-perfect rendering of the life of newly arrived Russian immigrants in such neighborhoods as Brighton Beach and Rego Park. An impressive crossover; recommended not only for lovers of the classics but also those who prefer their fiction lite.
Edward Cone - Library Journal


(Starred review.) Reyn captures and reveals the intricately layered culture of “sausage immigrants,” casting the reader from New York’s Upper East Side, to the outskirts of Queens, and down to Coney Island. Her characters inhabit the interstitial place between immigration and assimilation, tradition and innovation, poised to create a postmodern culture of their own design. Pair this with Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002). —Heather Paulson
Booklist


In a tricky but deft debut, Anna Karenina is reincarnated as an Upper East Side cougar. Reyn lays her own ironic portrait of the Russian Jewish immigrant community in New York (its taste for discount shopping, its dubious fashion sense, etc.) over Anna Karenina's familiar framework. Anna Roitman was nine when her parents left Moscow for Queens, where she grew up bullied at school but found distraction in romantic fiction, reading Wuthering Heights 14 times. Her "Russian soul," her immigrant otherness and physical charms seem to set her apart, but after a sequence of unhappy love affairs she eventually enters into a late, loveless marriage with wealthy Alex K., with whom she has a son, Serge. Still yearning for intellectual companionship and "the wild beating of the heart," however, she falls for David, a young adjunct comp assistant professor and the boyfriend of her cousin Katia. Unable to keep the affair secret, Anna confesses her love to Alex and leaves her comfortable home to live with David where, after the initial rapture, anxiety and jealousy set in and money is tight. Meanwhile another romantic, Lev, has married Katia but fantasizes about Anna. Lev's marriage trembles but does not fall. Anna, despairing as David's shortcomings grow clearer and her own choices narrow, finds her destiny on Lexington Avenue, at the 6 subway station. Although short on tragic impact and mildly anachronistic, this transposition of a 19th-century literary paradigm to the 21st nevertheless offers wit and insight, and a pungent portrait of New York.
Kirkus Reviews

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