Monday, February 07, 2022

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "Anna Karenina"

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally, America in the Twentieth Century.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina begins:
In one of the few things written about writing worth reading, Edith Wharton insisted that the story of a novel should be implicit on the very first page. In Anna Karenina the story is implicit in the very first sentence: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest novelists who ever wrote, tries to describe, and by describing explain, what makes the “happy family” the standard by which to measure all the other marriages that are, each of them, unhappy in their own way. He begins with the unhappy family of Prince Stepan Arkadyich, known as Oblonsky.

Oblonsky holds a high position in the Tsar’s government because his sister, Anna Karenina, is married to Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin who occupies one of the most important government offices. Oblonsky’s wife, Princess Darya Alexandrovna, known as Dolly, is the older sister of the eighteen-year-old Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky, whom everyone calls Kitty. Oblonsky, we should note right at the beginning, does not have a mind of his own - and this is the genius of Tolstoy - neither do most of the others. Oblonsky holds the same views on important subjects “as the majority and his newspaper did, and changed them only when the majority did or, rather, he did not change them, but they themselves changed imperceptibly in him.” He was a liberal because, among other reasons, the liberal party said marriage was an obsolete institution and in need of reform, “and indeed family life gave Stepan Arkadyich little pleasure and forced him to lie and pretend.” Like nearly everyone else he knew, Oblonsky believed that it was the “aim of civilization to make everything an enjoyment.”

Because they come to define the essential difference between a happy and an unhappy family, the two most important characters in the novel are Oblonsky’s sister, Anna Karenina, and...[read on]
About Buffa's new novel Neumann’s Last Concert, from the publisher:
Neumann’s Last Concert is a story about music and war and the search for what led to the greatest evil in modern history. It is the story of an American boy, Wilfred Malone, who lost his father in the early days of the Second World War and a German refugee, Isaac Neumann, the greatest concert pianist of his age when he lived in Berlin, but who now lives, anonymous and alone, in a single rented room in a small town a few miles from San Francisco.

Wilfred has a genius for the piano, “a keen curiosity not yet corrupted by vanity” and “a memory that forgot nothing essential.” Neumann, alone in his room, is constantly writing, an endless labyrinth of questions and answers, driving him farther and farther back into the past, searching for the causes, searching for the meaning, of what happened in Germany, trying to understand what had led him, a German Jew, to stay in Germany when he could have left but instead continued to perform right up to the night that during his last concert they took his wife away.

Neumann’s Last Concert is a novel about the great catastrophe of the 20th century and the way in which music, great music, preserves both the hope of human decency amidst the carnage of human insanity and the possibility of what human beings might still accomplish.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

--Marshal Zeringue