Android Karenina? Really??

This book has a trailer that with higher production quality than most indie films

Quirk Books has already released two best-selling "mash-up" books: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben Winters, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Here's the deal: once a book enters the public domain, authors are free to take some creative liberties with the source material. Quirk Books has led the way on making "mash-ups" into a legit lit genre.

Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben Winters has recently hit shelves.

These mash-up books definitely fall under the love-it-or-hate-it category. For one thing, 80% of the book is just the original text. The other 20% of the book includes zombie slaying, or whatever the title promises. (Take note: I've only read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies -- so feel free to smack me down in the comment section if Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is hugely different.)

I remember the first time I tried to read Pride and Prejudice -- sans zombies. And the second time I tried to read it. And the third time. I fell asleep, eeevery time. I never actually finished it, and I had to bullshit my way through the final exam -- with a little help from Wikipedia, Sparknotes, and the book's film adaptations.

P&P is crippingly depressing, which may have been the reason why my brain disengaged so strongly with it. I can't imagine what it would be like to be Elizabeth Bennet. She's a second-class citizen, basically not considered human, because she is a woman. When her father dies, she, her mother, and her sisters will be homeless, dirt poor, and stranded -- because they're not allowed to own anything or inherit property. At the very least, one of the young girls has to get married just to provide the rest of them a place to live -- and, if only one of them manages to snag a man, hopefully he'll have a house big enough to accomodate them all. Let's call it Darcy Ex Machina.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies actually allowed me to finish the book. (I wish P&P&Z had existed during my junior year of college.)

P&P is a book that people ought to read, no matter how depressing, boring, or difficult, because it illustrates a very difficult time for women, and - bonus - it's written by a woman living in the time period described. If it takes zombies to help you get through it, I don't see why that's shameful.

The zombie fights not only kept me awake, they also made the book less depressing. In P&P&Z, Elizabeth isn't just a woman with no rights, armed only with witticisms and proto-hipster irony; she's also a hardcore zombie hunter who has no qualms about ripping her skirt to increase mobility (also, easier access to the arsenal under her petticoats). She's a Buffy Summers-esque badass throughout, and reading about her ability to fight zombies somehow softened the blows about how she, y'know, can't inherit property and is doomed without Darcy.

So I must be really psyched about reading Android Karenina, right? Well ...


At the beginning of June, feminist blog Tiger Beatdown hosted a week or so of discussion about masculinity and femininity in literature, male and female authors, and "what we read when we don't read the internet." I enjoyed the series, but one post in particular made my head cock sideways: "Hard Work and Hard Work and Ripoffs."

The post's author, GarlandGrey, writes:

Jane Austen fought against a rigid male social structure to write books that are clever and well-written and about FEMALE CHARACTERS, just to have her work co-opted by not only every two-bit writer who wants a bestseller (I’m calling my first novel The Jane Austen Annual Bake Sale Massacre) but also, in this specific instance, by a DUDE. A dude named Seth Grahame-Smith, a dude who is well-meaning enough to be certain, but a dude nonetheless, a dude who successfully rips her book off ...

At first, I rejected this assessment. P&P&Z is feminist, I thought. It has to be! Elizabeth Bennet is kicking ass, taking zombie names, and rejecting patriarchal institutions! The original book is still there, there's just also more ass-kicking now! How could that ever be bad?

But it's more complicated than that, and I know that it is. Jane Austen fought hard, with her art, for something that wasn't achieved in her lifetime. P&P&Z does not intend to make a mockery of her life and her experiences, or use them for monetary gain -- except, wait, it kind of does. Is the book actually trying to make an elaborate feminist statement? Is it trying to update Austen's message, radicalize it, and teach our youth important messages about gender equality? Probably not. More likely it's that the kids these days, they love them some zombies, and Quirk Books knows it.

Will Android Karenina be another example in a long string of examples of women-bots as representations of the sexual fetishization of control over women? Or will the book endeavor to make a statement about the powerlessness of women, and their "programming" by Russian patriarchal society at that time? ... Orrrr is this book only on shelves because steampunk is so popular right now?


Making a quick buck is all well and good, but the pattern remains: all three of these books have famously feminist heroines and themes. This makes three in a row, and I've worked a newspaper long enough to know that's a trend! Is Quirk Books trying to shove "masculine" elements into "feminine" literature in order to make feminine texts more readable by masculine audiences? And if so, when are they going to take that the other direction? I'd love to read Moby Tits. Or maybe The Old Man and the Sea and the Hair Salon. I'm very open-minded.

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