Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison
Published by Random House
The death of Rasputin is more than an interesting anecdote in Russian history. For the people who loved him, for his wife and three legitimate children, it was a life-changing event. At the time of his death, Rasputin’s two daughters were in St. Petersburg with him, sent by their mother to obtain a better education than they might have at home. After his demise, the girls were placed in the care of the Tsar – a man who had, to put it mildly, his own problems.
Enchantments is the story of Rasputin’s oldest daughter, Masha after she and her sister are sent to live in the palace with the doomed Romanovs. Believed by the Tsarina to have powers similar to those of her father, Masha is assigned as a companion to the hemophiliac Tsarevich Alexei, often referred to by his nickname Alyosha. Although she shies away from him when he’s in pain, Masha does have a gift for keeping Alyosha’s spirits up with the almost magical stories she tells of her father, Alexei’s family, and the Russia he has never fully gotten to know.
Harrison’s prose and storytelling skills are absolutely captivating. What is actually happening to the Romanovs in captivity serves as little more than a backdrop, as Masha spins her slightly fantastical stories. These stories serve to give both Alyosha and the reader a basis for understanding what is happening in Russia and how things got to such a point. They are by no means told chronologically, but between Harrison’s lovely writing and the masterful way she sets up the plot, this is not distracting and does not take away from the reader’s understanding of the circumstances. What is quite impressive is how quickly Harrison keeps the story moving along, despite how little is happening in Masha’s present – although it doesn’t hurt that what does happen tends towards the dramatic.
A moving, gorgeously imagined, and beautifully written about the end of the Romanov reign in Russia. Highly recommended.
Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
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