Published February 2013 in paperback by Random House Trade Paperbacks
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for this review
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. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to her son, the headstrong prince Alyosha, who suffers from hemophilia. Soon after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and the Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha find solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, and to distract the prince from the pain she cannot heal, Masha tells him stories—some embellished and others entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s exploits, and their wild and wonderful country, now 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.
When I was young, I became fascinated with Russian history after reading a biography of Catherine The Great. Mini-me, likewise, became fascinated with Rasputin in high school, resulting in much discussion around our kitchen. Then, of course, there's the movie Anastasia which Miss H and I just rewatched recently. I'm not sure why I find the history of the Russian royalty so much more interesting than that of, say, English royalty, so you can imagine how excited I was to be offered this book for review.
Working with the known facts about Grigori Rasputin and the Romanov family, Harrison uses Masha's stories to weave together an intriguing fictional account of Rasputin and the last of the Russian Tsars. In fact, Harrison is helped by the fact that so little of the truth of this time and place is known; she is able to let her imagination run wild. The result is an interest historical work that had me looking to learn more and a lovely story the allowed me think of the Romanovs as real people.
check out the full tour; opinions are definitely varied. Kathryn Harrison is the author of the memoirs The Kiss and The Mother Knot. She has also written the novels Envy, The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water; a travel memoir, The Road to Santiago; a biography, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; and a collection of essays, Seeking Rapture. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their children.
Thanks to TLC for including me on this tour. I'll definitely be picking up more works by Harrison...and looking for more books about Russian royalty.