In: From life

Are you really reading Anna Karenina?

I turned and saw Nadia leaning against her desk, flipping through a magazine and looking completely bored. Work that day was slow and, like the employees in Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End, we needed something to do. We were ready to start begging for more work.

"I only ask because I’m from Russia."

Nadia’s accent is only slightly discernible–she’s clearly lived in the States for many years, and the only way I knew she was from another country was because her English is very carefully spoken–not ridiculously proper, just measured and slow, as if she takes time to craft her sentences with as little foreign accent as possible.

"Yeah. I–" I suddenly realized she’d left the a off Anna’s surname. Was that the proper Russian way of saying her name? I filed it away for future reference. "I like it."

"They make us read it in Russia." She turned a page in her magazine and shrugged, as if Tolstoy didn’t matter to her. I wasn’t terribly surprised. Another co-worker, who’s from Puerto Rico, said Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote was part of the curriculum, and Tony, who’s from Sicily, had to read Dante when he was in school. ("What’s it like in the original Italian?" I once asked him. He shook his head and lauhed. "It’s tough. It’s in Old Italian." He seemed to be searching for a good analogy. "You know how it’s hard to understand Shakespeare, even though it’s still English? That’s what Dante is like.")

"I got about three hundred pages into The–" I faltered, not wanting to mispronounce Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. "–The Brothers Karamazov?" Car-eh-meh-zov. I hoped was right.

She seemed to sense my intention, and smiled. "Karamazov." I got it right. She wrinkled her face. "I don’t like Dostoyevsky. He was–well, he was a very sad man. Very depressed."

"I was reading a bad translation, so I didn’t bother finishing it."

She laughed–"Ha!"–and shook her head derisively. "Every translation of Dostoyevsky is bad. He had–" Again, she shook her head. "There are certain things we say in Russian that you can’t really translate into English." Then she said something to me in Russian. "Like that." She winked and turned back to her computer. Then she turned back to me. "If you’re going to read him, you’d be better off just learning Russian."

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