Now Arriving from : St. Petersburg

We’re back from our book-ish trip to St. Petersburg and the surrounding area – how was your adventure? Did you find something new and intriguing? Any Russian novels that are light and happy? Yeah, I didn’t hold out much hope for that last one!

I went with watching a movie this month and I chose the recent production of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law. I have to admit, I’ve never read Anna Karenina (#badlibrarian) but maybe that helped. I watched with no expectations (well, it’s from Russian literature – I knew it was going to be dark and depressing) and, while I disliked the story line, I found the movie to be both beautiful and interesting.

In case you don’t know the story, here’s a quick rundown. Set in Imperial Russia during the late-1800s, Anna is a young woman who has nearly everything – wealth, status, a beloved child. What she does not have, but doesn’t realize she’s missing, is a passionate marriage. When she meets cavalry officer Count Vronsky, sparks fly and they begin an intense affair. When the affair is publicly acknowledged, the scandal has far-reaching effects on everyone around them.

My objection to the story is how Anna is treated (which was most likely typical for this time period). Two people take part in the affair, but when it is revealed it is Anna that suffers the most. The Count is married off – willingly it seems – to a princess. Anna’s husband, cold and dull, gains sympathy and custody of the children (Anna has a daughter with the Count). Anna, however, is not allowed to see her children, is shunned by society, divorced by her husband and abandoned for another woman by her lover. Plus, it’s very cold all the time. No wonder she does what she does. There is also some commentary on the excessive wealth of the upper class versus the simpler lives of the peasants – a hint of the social unrest that Russia will soon face, but it is not fully explored (in this version of the book).

The movie itself is quite beautiful – the costumes and jewels are stunning, with lots of sumptuous furs and dark, rich colors. The production is shown as if you were watching it in a theater, albeit a theater with spectacular, moving, multi-level sets. The movements of the actors are also very theatrical, with lots of hand waving and synchronized standing and walking and sitting. Plus, there is the strangest, arm-waviest waltz I’ve ever seen. I may not have appreciated the story, but it was a fascinating movie to watch.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read or watch this month?

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

posted by Liza

Recently, the Eastern Avenue Branch book club, Between the Lines, read Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The Bridge tells the story of the deaths of a group of people who were standing on a legendary rope bridge when it collapsed. The rich characters include two young twins divided by a woman, a famous actress known worldwide and her descent into madness, and a monk who tries to make sense of the disaster. The novel tells the story as it happened, before it happened, and after it happened.

I was pleasantly surprised by Wilder’s winning novel. I remember reading Our Town in high school and thinking it was overly sentimental and sappy. What shocked me in doing research about The Bridge was that many people in Wilder’s day thought The Bridge was too optimistic and not literary enough. Now, I know times are different from the 1920s when Wilder crafted this tale, but I found it hard to think a book in which half a dozen people die in the first paragraph is too optimistic. Perhaps in the age of prohibition and flappers it was.

Wilder based the Peruvian tale on an actual bridge in South America, and his ability to capture a sense of place is remarkable. While Wilder did travel to Peru, he did so many years after writing The Bridge. Yet, it’s not hard to imagine the llamas, see the mountains, and fully feel the emotions of the characters, many of whom were based on real historical figures. I’m not adding The Bridge to my list of most favorite novels, but I have to say that this novel held my attention and interest much longer than Our Town.

Maybe it was the llamas.