What Happened to Anna K is a reimagining of Anna Karenina set in the Russian and Bukharian immigrant enclaves of Rego Park in Queens, New York. Irina Reyn’s Anna feels trapped within a marriage and society and yearns to break free. A counterpoint story is that of her cousin, Katya, who wants only the security of commitment and marriage. Events unfold, tragedy ensues, life goes on.
It is always a treat to read a novel based on an old favorite. Such novels have become increasingly popular over the past several years, be they sequels, prequels, interquels, or stories told from differing points of view. The new work often prompts the reader to revisit the original as an old friend. Many readers of Reyn’s Anna will wish to reread Anna Karenina, but they will find that Reyn is no modern-day Tolstoy. This is not a sweeping dramatic canvas; it has a more personal, intimate feel. Yet Tolstoy’s theme of yearning for freedom is echoed here and the shadow of tragedy has the same feel of inevitability. Reyn clearly knows her community well and transmits a nuanced feeling for the characters who inhabit her world, yet the universal push/pull of security/freedom transcends the specific enclave and resonates for all.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A former librarian, she has lectured on topics relating to literacy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.