The Return of Boozy Books Fridays: Anna Karenina

Happiest of Fridays, ladies and gents! Welcome back to the fully functional, completely back-on-track, Nerd Cactus blog! It’s been quite a while since we completed our full weekly rotation of topics so let’s get right to it!

This week I am happy to recommend one of the most melodramatic Russian sagas of all time. Anna Karenina! (I can hear you groaning through the computer. Stop it.) I know, I know; it’s a huge read, it’s an absolute soap opera… but I happen to love it. It probably helps that my Russian lit professor was super engaging and incredibly knowledgeable so, yes, I probably have a somewhat inflated appreciation for Leo Tolstoy’s epic exploration of family, love, honor, duty, Russia… you know, the important things.

The opening line of the novel is a perfect summation of the drama contained within its pages (a tragedy, in case you weren’t aware): “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. The poignancy of this statement propels the reader forward with ease and so we are introduced to the Oblonsky family and the most recent of their quarrels. While Prince Stepan Oblonsky seems to live a life full of scandal his sister, Anna Karenina, appears meekly shackled to the duties of a government official’s wife. She is unhappy in most things, but takes solace in her young son.  Her story takes off when she meets an army officer by the name of Count Vronsky. His infatuation with Anna is immediate and they soon begin a torrid relationship which frees Anna while simultaneously trapping her and setting her on a path toward self destruction. The social, political, and personal conflicts that exist for her and her family demonstrate the struggle of a woman torn between what is expected of her and what she desires. There’s also a sub-story about Konstantin Levin, a Russian landowner who wants to marry Anna’s sister-in-law, Kitty. It’s nowhere near as intense and ends quite sweetly in comparison to Anna’s arc so I’m not really going to get into it.

As is my custom, I will refrain from revealing too much detail herein. If you feel the need to track down a full synopsis feel free to do so, but DO NOT ruin the ending for yourself. Just read it. Also, a film adaptation was made in 2012 starring Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Matthew Macfayden, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I haven’t seen it yet – though I have really, REALLY wanted to (c’mon Netflix, you’re letting me down here) – so I have no recommendation as far as faithfulness to the story, etc. but, visually, it looks absolutely stunning.

So anyway, what should we pair with this Russian tank of a novel? Besides the obvious vodka recommendation (because, Russia), I am inclined to offer a full-bodied, deep, bold, red wine. I’m thinking specifically of a Douro red. These wines tend to include full palettes of blueberries and violets with layers of woody extract, and are incredibly structured (much like Tolstoy’s novel). It has a dry, bitter edge behind the initial seductive sweetness so it’s a perfect pairing. And if you aren’t into wine, lord knows there’s nothing more Russian than some Stolichnaya on ice.

Cheers!

-A

Get the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Anna-Karenina-Modern-Library-Classics/dp/067978330X

Get the wine here: http://www.totalwine.com/wine/red-wine/red-blend/quinta-das-carvalhas-tinto-douro/p/129992750?s=913&igrules=true

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