Book Review: Anna K. by Jenny Lee

You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.

John Green- An Abundance of Katherines

Title: Anna K.
Author: Jenny Lee
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780241420218

Anna K. is a modern retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s classic Anna Karenina. Set in the Upper East Side, it reminds one of Gossip Girl- an American teen drama television series that ran from 2007 to 2012. Filled with scandals and a peek at the lives of America’s 1%, Anna K. is indeed a “modern” retelling.

The book follows our protagonist Anna, who comes from a wealthy and affluent family in Manhattan and is considered a part of the “royal circle” in both the Manhattan and Greenwich society. Half-Korean in heritage, Anna is shown attached to her father, with whom she shares a close bond. She finds solace in the company of her Newfoundland dogs Jon Snow and Gemma (Fun Fact: Gemma is the name of the author’s Newfoundland dog), and her horses. In a perfect relationship with Alexander W., Anna finds her whole world change after a chance meeting with Count Vronsky at Grand Central.

I haven’t yet read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina but was aware of its storyline, plot, and climax when I began reading Anna K. I had mixed feelings about the book. I liked how the author has built on Anna and her father’s relationship. The rapport they share is touching and one of the few grounded things about the book. While Anna’s father is caring, sensitive, and loving towards her, he has an entirely different attitude towards her brother Steven. It is interesting as the book explores the reasons behind that difference.

I especially liked the touch of the Korean heritage in the book. The main character is half Korean in honor of the author’s mother’s culture, and it is refreshing to see the main characters to be of Asian heritage. As patriarchy is deep-rooted in the Asian culture, the author does touch upon it as well. While the world of the Upper East Side looks lonely, competitive, and empty, I enjoyed Anna’s relationships with her brother and friends. Steven’s protectiveness towards Anna is impressive and touching.

However, for me, certain elements seemed lacking. I wish the book had more of Anna and Count Vronsky. The other stories took up so much space that I was left wanting for more when it came to the book’s primary love plot. And while I understood that the author wanted to do justice to Anna Karenina, I did not enjoy the ending. Considering this was a retelling, I wish the author would have taken the liberty of exploring something different.

I give the book 3/5 stars. For me, it felt reminiscent of Gossip Girl, and while I enjoyed certain elements, I wish the book had more to offer in terms of the story and its end.

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