Reading Group Guide
What Happened To Anna K.
1. Though What Happened to Anna K. is a sharply contemporary novel, there are many structural nods to its source material, such as the introduction to new characters through the impersonal perspective of the wedding videographer. How else is the narrative like that of a nineteenth-century novel? Why do you think David's perspective is never fully revealed, unlike most of the other characters in the novel?
2. Describe the various types of romantic idealism depicted in the novel. Is there a conflict between Anna's traditional romanticism, tied to heroes like Darcy and Heathcliff, and her dreams of a Woody Allen-style New York love affair? How do these imagined passions compare to Lev's longing for the romance of French films? How do these scenarios contrast with real life? In what ways are these ideals destructive?
3. Anna is seen both from her own perspective and through the eyes of others. How does her sense of herself differ from how she is perceived? Is her own vision of herself the true one, or is she at times blind to truths that others observe?
4. In what ways is beauty used as currency in Anna's world? Why do you think Anna's aging changes her outlook so dramatically? If she had not been raised with the goal of attractiveness, would her story have been different? Do you think this standard for women is universal or specific to Anna's community?
5. Why do you think Anna never voices complaints within her marriage? Can Anna fault Alex for not knowing her, when she never truly attempted to communicate? Is she later guilty of not wanting to know the real David?
6. Anna wonders, "Is there room for the comfort of routine and the wild beating of the heart to coexist in a single life?" (Page 76) Why are these concepts at odds with one another? Do you believe that these two aspects of love can be combined in a relationship?
7. Meeting with Nadia at Bloomingdale's, Anna notices that "it seemed that no one cared she had had an affair; her biggest crime was in shattering their shared mythology by acting on it." (Page 137) Why do you think the "mythology" of marriage and money is so closely guarded? Why is it fragile? Why do you think these values take the place of moral consideration in this world?
8. How does Anna's tragedy compare to the histories of older generations -- their tales of poverty, starvation, illness, and persecution? Why is Anna separated from the "shared narrative" (page 40) of the more insulated Bukharian Jews? How does her broadened world and its expanded options help to create her depression?
9. Discuss the use of trains in What Happened to Anna K. Why do you think the train is such a powerful image for Anna? How does it evolve as a symbol throughout the novel?
10. Many possible causes of Anna's unhappiness are discussed, from her passion for the world of books to her alienation from every culture as an Americanized immigrant. Ultimately, why do you think Anna is so desperate to be saved by true love? Why does she feel the need to be a big story?
11. In both Tolstoy's epigraph and the context of David's father's book, Reyn mentions the idea that "it is in the everyday that history is revealed." (Page 178) How do you think this work speaks to the history of our own time?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Next read Tolstoy's classic work Anna Karenina, upon which this novel is based. Compare not only the stories but also the themes within their different contexts.
2. Much of What Happened to Anna K is set in restaurants catering to Russian immigrants. Plan a trip to a Russian restaurant, or liven up your meeting at home with Russian delicacies and vodka. For recipes, go to www.ruscuisine.com
3. Explore the Russian folktales described in the novel. The stories of "Vasilisa the Beautiful," "Baba Yaga," and others can be found at www.oldrussia.net