The Anna Karenina Fix by Viv Groskop, review by Shelly Walston
Reading Viv Groskop's The Anna Karenina Fix satisfies every ounce of my Russophile-ness. She sparked in me memories of my time living in the small village of Krasny Yar, located in northern (and very Rusisian) Kazakhstan, and she let me relive the fervor with which I tried to make my way through Anna Karenina in its original language - no easy feat for a 20-something from the Midwest who was also grappling with significant cultural and weather differences (it was regularly -30 degrees Celsius in my neck of the ninth largest country in the world).
At once memoir, the text is also part Russian novel/play/poetry synopsis, and biography; it is, however, entirely gratifying. Unlike the 800+ page novels she discusses - War and Peace and Anna Karenina for example - Groskop's memoir is compact - a piecing together of vignettes that form her identity, matched with snippets of the Russian writers she persued so hotly in her youth and middling years. The two aspects - personal identity and fictional storytelling - inform so much of the woman (and writer) Groskop has become.
Not only tackling the Russian "greats" - Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov - Groskop also examines the similarly influential but less universally known (at least to Western readers) like poet Anna Akhmatova, novelist Mikhail Bulgakhov, and playwright Ivan Turgenev. In each author, she unfolds for the reader the high points and mostly low points of their existence; from Akhmatova's roaring in the early teens to her swollen feet and solitude in the late 40s and 50s; from Bulgakhov's “bouts” with Stalin to his desire to burn, burn, burn his manuscripts.
What makes Groskop’s memoir so solidly readable is the finesse with which she interweaves the histories, with the novels, with her life and experiences both in Russia and out of Russia. The memoir will make you want visit a country-side dacha, brew some chay, and chat with your babushka about who you are and the history of your people. Zamechatel'na!