Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classics
Secondary genre: romance/drama
Format: audio
CW: infidelity, antisemitism, suicidal ideation, suicide, emotional and financial abuse
Rating: planchet-4

**This review contains spoilers**

Are you in the mood for a surprisingly modern classic novel that weighs roughly the same as a small child? Then have I got a book for you!

All joking aside, even on audio this book took me a good long time to work through. I had to start out with the narration on a slower (for me) speed (1.4x) while I adjusted to the Russian naming conventions (Russian names are weird. Familiarize yourself before you start reading Russian lit or you will be very confused as every has 3-4 names). About a third of the way through I was able to up it to my usual 1.8x.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this this book. Infidelity is one of my hot button issues; I will frequently DNF a book if it comes up. It drives me crazy for reasons I won’t get into here. But, despite being written by a white dude in the 1870s, it was refreshingly feminist (Spoiler: the feminism ends abruptly when Anna commits suicide because she can’t stand being scorned, separated from her son, or the fear of her paramour leaving her). Though society maligns our titular character for carrying on an affair and leaving her husband, the author questions why Anna is an outcast in society while her brother, who is a serial cheater and ends up abandoning his wife, is still welcome in all the best drawing rooms in St. Petersburg, leaving her to the mercy of her sister and brother-in-law.

At one point, there’s even a really great conversation about the working rights of women and if they should be allowed to own property, hold public office, or even vote. While the conversation ends on a sour note, I was surprised to hear the pro arguments presented by male characters in a novel from this time period.

There are also great arguments–both for and against–communism, education, religion, and the meaning of life.

I’ve never read any Russian literature before, but I did really enjoy Tolstoy’s writing (okay, it was in translation, but still. Really good), and I’m planning to listen to War and Peace over Christmas break.

Flight by Sherman Alexie

Genre: Contemporary YA
Content warnings: violence, alcoholism, child abuse
rating: planchet

Zits is a foster kid. He’s been bounced around to more shitty foster homes than he can count, and at fifteen he’s just about had enough.

Running away for good, he crosses paths with a charming homeless kid named Justice. Justice is his savior–he shows Zits how to survive on the streets, and he has the most amazing stories. He’s well read, self educated, and knows just what to say to keep Zits hanging on to his every word.

It doesn’t take long for him to convince his new follower that the world is a terrible place full of terrible people, and action must be taken.

Zits decides it’s his mission to commit this act of violence, but before he does, something mysterious happens and he finds himself falling backward through time, experiencing life as a civil rights-era cop, a child on a reservation, and even his own father. Through all of it, he wonders: How can you tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys when they both say the same things?

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this book. It was, for the most part, a 2-3 star read for me, but the ending was beautiful and heartwarming, and made me bump it up to 4 stars, though I’ve been waffling on that since.

Zits is half Native American. He’s been through hell and doesn’t have the best people skills. He’s been abused. He drinks, he smokes, and he could care less about authority.

But I am not the one to say if this is positive or even accurate representation. I’m not a foster kid. I’m not Native. I can tell you that this book made me very uncomfortable, for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Part of it was the fact that Zits wanted to commit an act of terrorism. Justice has the charm of a serpent and could easily become a cult leader one day. But the feeling goes deeper than that.

Since reading this book, I’ve been informed that Sherman Alexie is perhaps not the best person to represent Native populations in fiction. I’ve heard from some Native people on Twitter that he has caused a lot of harm to the community. I don’t know the details of this, but it is something to consider and after reading this book I can certainly see why it would be harmful to the Native American community at large.

So, with all that in mind, I have lowered my rating back to my initial gut feeling of 2 stars. If you’re looking for Native American rep in fiction, maybe pick another author.