Author: Kathryn Harrison
Hardcover: 320 pages (my version is ARC paperback)
Publisher: Random House
Published date: March 6, 2012
FTC: Received for review for TLC Book Tours
When I was asked if I wanted to join in the TLC Book Tour for Kathryn Harrison's new novel Enchantments, I jumped at the chance. It's a historical fiction set in revolutionary Russia and and narrated by Rasputin's oldest daughter. I have long been fascinated by this period in Russia's history. My ancestors on both sides of my mother's were Germans living in Russia who emigrated to the United States just before the Bolshevik Revolution. So perhaps it stems from thought about what would have happened to my family had they stayed? I have have a huge desire to see St Petersburg and just like any other history buff -- the sad fate of the Romanov family is so moving.
St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family—including the headstrong Prince Alyosha. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s miraculous healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, a blood disease that keeps the boy confined to his sickbed, lest a simple scrape or bump prove fatal.
Two months after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha grieve the loss of their former lives, finding solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, they tell stories—some embellished and some entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s many exploits, and the wild and wonderful country on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.
Mesmerizing, haunting, and told in Kathryn Harrison’s signature crystalline prose, Enchantments is a love story about two people who come together as everything around them is falling apart.
I will be honest and say that I haven't finished the book quite yet. It's not that it isn't a engrossing read -- just sometimes life gets in the way. When I am finished I will do a follow-up post at the end.
Right now, about halfway through I am throughly enchanted with Kathryn Harrison's writing. Masha, Rasputin's daughter, sits with young Alyosha and tells him stories about his family, about her family, and what an absolutely fantastic teller of tales she is.
You can not read about the Romanov family - sitting in exile in their palace with just a few loyal servants as their world crumbles and their fate hangs in the balance - and not be pulled into the story. From Kathryn Harrison's writing, as well as the historical truth about what happened to the family, there is absolutely no doubt that this family was royalty. They faced all their trials and tribulations with almost unnerving calm.
Reading this, I will never think of the young Prince Alyosha in the same light. Kathryn Harrison gave him such a realistic and true personality. Can you imagine this child, growing up the petted and royal hope for the Romanov family, stricken first with hemophilia, and then murdered when he was just shy of his fourteenth birthday.
It's bittersweet to read about the courtship of Alyosha's parents, to read about his sisters sledding on tea trays, and to hear Alyosha's voice - so full of questions and interest - and all along know the fate of this beautiful family. Here's Alyosha (or Prince Alexei as I've heard of him) with his father:
So far the only parts of the book I'm not just swept away with are the narrations of Grigori Rasputin's life. Perhaps it's unfounded, but Rasputin has always creeped me out. Just look at the guy:
Masha, Rasputin's daughter -- while mourning her father's death (he was poisoned, shot, clubbed and drowned) -- even she can't put him in a favorable light. Still, Rasputin is such a fascinating character -- an illiterate, dirty, often drunk, and sexually promiscuous -- but able to pull off being perceived as a holy man, healer, and prophet.
While reading this novel, I've added another place I want to visit: Tsarskoe Selo -- the palace where the Romanov family were held for a while. I grabbed this photo from wikipedia but seriously Google the place. Beautiful!
Masha, or Maria/Matryone Rasputin, was a real person who lived to an old age and even wrote about her father. I am quiet curious about what she wrote. Here's a photo with her mother and father (she's three/four years older in the book):
While Googling stuff I found this gorgeous alternate cover: