How Traveling is Like Reading a Russian Novel

One of my favorite books, in a sea of many, has to be Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. (Please don’t bring up the movie version as the memory pains me deeply. I found the movie more painful and confusing to watch than the effort needed to read the book, which says a lot if you’ve read Russian literature.)

Russian writers love to write about the human experience, ALL OF IT, which is why their novels normally surpass the 1000-page benchmark. Such great length is taken to describe the human experience that the reader experiences several things:

1. The reader knows more about the environments and landscaping of the locales used in the book than they know about the view from their bedroom window. ‘Er…what type of tree is planted outside again?

2. The reader is disgusted with every character in the book by say, page 100. ‘You know what goes well with that red velvet cloak? A red handprint from the slap I want to give you across your rosy, red, deceitful little check!

3. The reader reconsiders their choice in book by page 300. ‘I’ve read enough for now. Maybe I can just cross it off my list now. I’ll have plenty to talk about if my friends ever bring it up and I’m not planning on joining a Tolstoy Literary Circle anytime soon. I wonder if that copy of “The Notebook” is still on sale at the bookstore?

4. The reader spends ten minutes re-reading the same sentence because she keeps losing focus and spends 30 minutes trying to get all the characters matched appropriately. ‘Which Ivan are we talking about this time?

5. The reader throws the books across the room upon finishing, and not out of celebration of making it to the end. ‘THIS, this is how it ends!?!’ and then feels guilty and retrieves the great classic. ‘I’m sorry book, it’s not your fault.

But after all this and as a few days go by, the reader begins to absorb all that she read. She begins to turn into an obsessive over the rich detail, the upfront honesty, and the profound impact. Some change has occurred.

Christian Ekleberry, backpacksandblackboards.com
Christian Ekleberry, backpacksandblackboards.com

The experience of travelling is a lot like this. A traveler sets out on her journey eager and with good intention. She has planned to see the world and take in its entire splendor. She has read every piece that she can get her hands on that describes what she will do and see. She has bookmarked every great photograph of the land she is to visit. In just a few days she’ll be able to check off an item of her bucket list.

Then she arrives. There are a few ups and downs of the journey. Some moments of ugliness (such as not getting to brush your teeth for 9 or 10 hours). Not to mention the setbacks when weather or timing throws her unexpectedly off course.

By the time she has landed back at her home gate, she is tired, grumpy, sore, and sadly probably a bit smelly. She is ready to collapse into bed and is wondering why on earth she thought that a vacation would be relaxing. Apparently holidays from holidays are also necessary. (‘Does my working contract allow for that?’)

A few days go by, family and friends are done asking about all she has done, and she is glad to finally be done answering all these questions. ‘Yes, it was great. Yes, it was absolutely stunning. Yes, you have to try the food. No, I didn’t want to come home.’ But then, she begins to scroll through her photos, to digest the breadth of their hidden treasures and true colors. She starts to see them come to life on a large screen instead of through the limited window of her camera screen. In this enlargement, she has time to search, discover, and meditate. She gets to piece the pictures together and fill in the gaps with the things lost between the margins and the gallery.

What she finds is that she enjoyed the journey all along and in the end, a small part of her, has changed.

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2 thoughts on “How Traveling is Like Reading a Russian Novel”

    1. It’s so neat to find people who can relate to my experiences! Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to getting to connect with you more!

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