Viv Groskop’s latest book, The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature, described as a literary self-help memoir, aims to persuade us that not only are the Russian classics beautiful pieces of literature, they are also useful too, providing answers to the age old questions of life and love. For many of us the formidable Russian classics couldn’t feel further away from the current fixations of our age, however be prepared to be converted, because if just spending one hour in Groskop’s warm, witty and open presence revealed so much about Russia, life, love, bravery, food, language, poetry and even dysentery, the book looks to be an absolute gem.
But why Russian classics in particular? Chaired by the very capable Steven Gale, Groskop spoke about how she became fixated by her surname as a girl growing up in a largely middle class and very English town. Her parents did not want her to think too much about it, and tried instead to convince her that it was a British name. However, doubts still lingered and after coming across Anna Karenina and noting that the characters also had unusual names, she decides that of course she must actually be Russian. This started a life-long passion and interest in all things Russian, including studying Russian at university. In her quest to both find herself and the ‘true’ Russia, she heads to Saint Petersburg for a year, just after the fall of communism where she falls in love with a Ukrainian, writes for a Russian newspaper, and contracts dysentery. While recovering she is taught the poetry of Anna Akhmatova by a friend who nurses her back to health. In fact, the story of Anna Akhmatova who, while actively monitored by Stalin, manages to write the epic poem, Requiem, via a group of people who came to her house and memorised four lines at a time, was one of the most affecting stories of the event. Gale even persuaded Groskop to recite a few lines of Akhmatova’s poetry, which was beautiful and so rhythmic that it was almost meditative.
Admittedly, the whole event was so jam packed with stories that the life lessons were quite lost amongst them all. However, this is minor quibble for it only means that the answers lie in Groskop’s book, and what is a literary event without a gentle prod to get your hands on the book itself?
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