November 01, 2018

Anna and an Atlas

As the British journalist and comedian recounts the history of her emotional  and intellectual fulfillment through the Russian language and its literature, she discusses 11 classics and their authors. Her gift beyond being an entertaining writer herself is that of giving us the desire to go read or reread those great books. She realizes how for the most part they show us how not to live. Turgenev, Chekhov, Pasternak, they all show us how we deceive ourselves, how we go too far, how we believe one thing but do the opposite. Groskop is such a wonderful host of these discussions because she conveys her excitement and knowledge with a sense of humor. One wants to continue conversing with her about the books’ intriguing and maddening and astounding parts and about their authors. Of Tolstoy:

“Even the most cursory glance at his life shows that he was an immensely and amusingly complex character. That is why—with reservations—I love him. He is a tricky bugger, with many bad character traits and psychological inconsistencies, which plagued him his whole life and which he tried desperately to overcome. But aren’t these very much the qualities anyone should seek in a lifelong friend?” [25]

As a girl Groskop threw herself into Russian literature, and while at university spent a year teaching English in St. Petersburg just after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She imagined becoming Russian, but eventually learned that

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