In What Happened to Anna K., Irina Reyn takes the story of Anna Karenina and sets in modern day New York, in the Russian Jewish immigrant community. For the most part it works very well, and even though I knew the broad strokes of the story, I was very interested in seeing how she would make everything work together. After all, would Anna even work as a character in the 21st century? Given the different times, it doesn't seem like what she did was that scandalous. However, that's where the fact that Reyn chose such a specific community truly worked in her favor. Divorce isn't nearly the deal now that it was then, and as a woman, Anna would have had many more options, but if she was still raised with a certain idea in mind and surrounded by a certain type of women, the difficulties would still remain.
Katia, Anna's cousin, and Lev are part of the Bukharian Jewish community, and though I know nothing about their background and traditions, it is obvious that they are very traditional, but must somehow balance the old with the new. The women are expected to enter into their marriages as virgins and Katia especially is very pure and sweet, though Reyn shows how lies and rumors can destroy a woman's chances. When Katia falls for an outsider, David, she introduces him to Anna, and from there, the story shows the familiar steps.
While the novel is slim, I still felt like it was dragging just a bit towards the end, much like I felt about Anna Karenina, because there is just a point in the narrative when it becomes impossible to watch Anna's self destruction. While women have much more freedom now, I thought the translation of Anna into the modern day worked very well, especially since Reyn hints at depression and mental illness. Lev, though also well developed, he felt even more useless in this than the original. At least in Tolstoy's version he felt like a man trying to figure things out and trying to become a better land owner and leader. In this one, he really just felt ridiculously self absorbed and clueless about the feelings of those around him. However, I like how Reyn expanded on Katia, since I feel like there was much more from just her perspective in this. Though Oleg has no relation to Anna, I also think he worked well as a parallel to Anna's brother Oblensky from the original, though much of his plot line is cut down, instead being reduced to Lev's "cool" friend, that really seems more like a tool or douche to the reader even if Lev doesn't get that.
I never would have expected a modern day adaptation of Anna Karenina to work, but I actually enjoyed this book very much even as I was hoping maybe this time around, Anna would snap out of it and figure out a solution. As I said, I think I could have done with about ten or twenty pages less of spiralling, but I felt the same way about Tolstoy's novel and the most recent movie adaptation to, so at least it is true to form.