- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

LONDON The story of the most romantic fallen woman in literature has undergone a modern makeover in Russia's first comic-book treatment of a classic novel.

Convertible cars, cocaine and sushi bars provide the backdrop for the comic-book reworking of "Anna Karenina," set in the present day and casting its characters as fast-living members of Russia's idle rich.

The novel's heroine is depicted as a femme fatale with a mobile phone, a taste for luxury lingerie and, by the end of the comic, a drug habit that drives her to suicide.

Bart Simpson, Bruce Willis and the film "Pulp Fiction" all make fleeting appearances in the book, further distancing the cartoon version from its origins in Count Leo Tolstoy's novel in 19th-century czarist Russia.

"You couldn't ask for anything more contemporary," said Grigory Baltser, the publisher. "It has a classic love triangle and a wealthy woman who becomes a drug addict.

"It is not a profanation of the original work. This is not blasphemy. We have deep respect for Tolstoy's novel."

The comic may be an abridged version of Tolstoy's 900-plus pages, but the speech bubbles nearly all contain quotations from the book. And its "authors" did not have to change much to bring the novel up to date.

Tolstoy himself put his most celebrated character on morphine and sent her lover, Count Vronksy, to the Balkans after her death to fight alongside Serbs. In the cartoon, he is a volunteer in Yugoslavia during last year's NATO bombing.

Turning one of the world's greatest novels into a comic, especially in a country so proud of its literary heritage, was bound to be controversial.

"This is an outrage," said Stanislav Govorukhin, a film director and State Duma deputy. "Is nothing sacrosanct nowadays? Tolstoy and Chekhov, for example, must remain holy."

Vladimir Tolstoy, the count's great-grandson and director of the museum at his Yasnaya Polyana estate, said: "At first, I was shocked. Then I tried but failed to see the funny side.

"Now the liberties taken with the text just jar upon me."

Katya Metelitsa, who created the comic, compared the realism of the original novel to TV soap operas. But illustrations from her book seem to owe more to the genre of bodice-ripping romantic fiction.

"We did this to raise a laugh, encourage people to re-read the book and make them think," she said. "But we did aim to shock a bit as well."

Her comic was published last month by a company that specializes in marketing humorous items mocking the "New Russians," a wealthy class created by the reforms of the last decade.

In this version of "Anna Karenina," the heroine's husband resembles a Russian oligarch, with tinted glasses, a signet ring, a black limousine and bulky security guards patrolling outside his mansion.

Count Vronsky is a long-haired dandy with a hairy chest and rippling biceps who watches in horror as his lover snorts cocaine through a rolled up $100 note and sinks into physical and mental decline.

Anna's affair with the count turns her from a bored trophy wife into a passionate woman who is obsessed with her lover and, as in the novel, neglects her children, takes drugs and finally throws herself under a train.

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