54 great opening lines: 33

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

Anna Karenin, Leo Tolstoy (Trans. by Rosemary Edmonds, who prefers this title over Anna Karenina)

*****

This novel brings two things to mind:

1.  An author I work for dictates while I type.  She dictates for several minutes, then thinks for several more.  During one of these silences I once pulled Anna Karenin from her shelves and began reading.  After six months, I’d read about half the novel during our dictation sessions.  She rewarded me with my own copy so I could finish it.

2.  The opening line is famous, but Tolstoy didn’t write these words;  the translator did.  You might recognise or have heard the line as it is above, translated by Rosemary Edmonds, or another of the many slight variations on this opening proverb, like a recent one by Pevear and Volokhonsky:
‘All happy families are alike: each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’

Or a golden oldie by Constance Garnett:
‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ‘

If you ever quote one of them, you’re giving credit to a translator.  And that makes me feel like my hours translating literature are worthwhile.

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