Posted by: cochinblogger | November 2, 2011

You Know You’re Reading a Russian Novel When …

Russian thought is on an epic scale. Two fields in which Russians have made deep contributions are mathematics and chess, but their literature is nothing to sneeze at either. Dostoevsky is a personal favorite, and I’m currently deep in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

Did I say “deep”? The book has 31 chapters, and I’m in Chapter 18, so “deep” is no exaggeration. But the protagonist of the novel, Anna Karenina, has just been introduced — in Chapter 18! Half the book has been devoted to paving the way for this introduction and setting subplots in motion.

So, I hereby formulate the following law: If the protagonist of a novel has not put in an appearance midway through the book or by Chapter 15 (whichever occurs first), it must be a Russian novel. 🙂



  1. “If the protagonist of a novel has not put in an appearance midway through the book or by Chapter 15 (whichever occurs first), it must be a Russian novel”
    Let me run this by you again… You think Russian books can be a little on the long side? And you’re writing this from the land of the Mahabharata?!

    • Good point, but I was not talking about length. I was impressed by the fact that Anna Karenina debuted only in Chapter 18 — and I hadn’t missed her! Now, that’s artistry for you.

      The Mahabharata can be compared to War and Peace; both are epics. In fact, Tolstoy himself refused to call War and Peace a novel; he called it an epic. Anna Karenina, on the other hand, he said was a novel.

      A better comparison (eponymous titles) is with the Ramayana: Rama is introduced as early as the second chapter in Rajagopalachari’s translation. My post was about the delayed entry of Anna Karenina, the protagonist of Tolstoy’s novel. I find the delayed introduction remarkable, and even more remarkably, I hadn’t missed her until then.

      • Anna was just following her excellent female instincts: avoiding the faux pas of too early an arrival, and timing her entrance to maximum effect.
        She must have been an expert – the maestra of keeping men in hopeful expectation. Here we both are, almost one hundred and fifty years later, and still discussing her glorious advent!

      • Ha, ha, ha! Brilliant! Thanks! i enjoyed that!

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