Select one of the keywords
Enchantments: A Novel    by Kathryn Harrison order for
by Kathryn Harrison
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kathryn Harrison takes an unusual subject for her historical novel, Enchantments - Matryona Grigorievna, daughter of the infamous monk Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin. And she picks a unique period of time - the end of the Romanov dynasty, as the family await their inevitable execution.

Harrison moves her story fluidly back and forth in time, from the point of view of Masha Rasputin, as she remembers her father, the Tsar and Tsarina, the Russian princesses, her sister Varya, but primarily Prince Alyosha, the hemophiliac heir to the Russian throne. This almost dreamlike sequence has elements of The Thousand and One Nights, as Masha weaves happy memories to distract Alyosha from current horrors. It's also a novel of coming of age (for both Masha and Alyosha); first love, the kind whose memory lingers for a lifetime; and what it takes to survive terrible times.

Enchantments opens in 1917 St. Petersburg as Rasputin's body is pulled out of the frozen Neva River. On his death, his eighteen-year-old daughter Masha and her younger sister Varya become wards of Tsar Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov and are moved to live in the imperial palace - giving them a front seat for subsequent events at a time when 'every week brought more strikes and increasing violence ... Revolution, anarchy, martial law: we didn't know what to dread, only that we were accelerating - hurtling - toward it'.

Masha and Varya had accompanied their peasant father from Siberia to St. Petersburg because their mother wanted them educated 'in a proper girls' school.' Now that Mad Monk Rasputin is dead, the tsarina hopes that Masha has inherited her father's healing abilities and will be able to keep Tsarevich Alexei Nikolayevivh Romanov from harm, despite his debilitating disease. Of course, subsequent events make this impossible, but in the interim Masha spends all her time with Alyosha - and helps him with her stories.

When they are eventually separated, Masha does as her father foretold and marries a man she doesn't love or respect to escape a country in chaos. Fate takes her to Paris, and from there to tour Europe on horseback with Barnum & Bailey, after which she performs in America, working with cats and bears. But wherever she goes, Masha dreams of Alyosha - and eventually she receives and reads his journal. Enchantments is an enchanting tale of the Romanovs' last days from the point of view of Rasputin's daughter and the doomed young tsarevich - it will stay with you long after the last page is turned.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Historical books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews