The bestselling author of "The Madonnas of Leningrad" returns with a breathtaking novel of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagant royal court of eighteenth-century St.Read more...
The bestselling author of "The Madonnas of Leningrad" returns with a breathtaking novel of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagant royal court of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.
Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia, an eccentric dreamer who cares little for social conventions, falls in love with Andrei, a charismatic soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Though husband and wife adore each other, their happiness is overshadowed by the absurd demands of life at the royal court and by Xenia's growing obsession with having a child--a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of her daughter. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes.
Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and a blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and its new Empress, Catherine, who perceives her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses. In this evocative and elegantly written tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures. This is an exploration of the blessings of loyal friendship, the limits of reason, and the true costs of loving deeply.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-30
- Reviewer: Staff
In her second novel (after The Madonnas of Leningrad), Dean returns to Russia to reimagine the intriguing life story of St. Xenia, as seen through the eyes of the fictional narrator, Dashenka. A terrible fire in 1736 in St. Petersburg forces a young Xenia; her sister, Nadya; and their mother to seek refuge in Dasha’s childhood home. The girls grow up together and are ushered into society the same year. Soon after, Xenia falls in love with Col. Andrei Petrov and the two wed. Dasha is not so lucky, but is kindly welcomed into Xenia’s house, where she witnesses Xenia unravel, first over her difficulty in conceiving, then the deaths of her only baby and husband. When an unstable Xenia begins to relinquish her worldly possessions, Dasha becomes concerned, and Xenia suddenly disappears, only to resurface years later as a saint to the poor—much to the chagrin of the royals. For those familiar with the story of St. Xenia, this is a gratifying take on a compelling woman. For others, Dean’s vivid prose and deft pacing make for a quick and entertaining read. Agent: Marly Rusoff. (Sept.)
The Russian saint of fools
Is there any setting more exotic—or enticing—than 18th-century Russia, populated as it is by finicky empresses, brutish tsars and decorated soldiers of the royal court? Best-selling author Debra Dean, previously heralded for The Madonnas of Leningrad, imagines the life of Russia’s beloved “holy-fool” Xenia, breathing life into the now-revered woman who became the patron saint of St. Petersburg.
Narrated by Xenia’s devoted cousin Dasha, The Mirrored World follows the two girls beginning with their society debuts. Xenia—not known for following the rules—falls head over heels for an alluring singer in the Empress’ Imperial Choir, Colonel Andrei Petrov. Soon, though, Xenia’s devotion to her husband is taken over by an obsession to have a child. When her daughter passes away not one year into her life, Xenia, crushed by grief, slowly begins to remove herself from society. The Colonel responds by lavishing his attentions on the bottle rather than on his wife; Xenia cannot be comforted nor cajoled into making an appearance at the royal court. One evening, her second sight hints at her own death, but it is Colonel Petrov whose time is up, leaving Xenia widowed and childless at the age of 26.
Readers are left to debate whether it is madness stemming from grief or simple destiny that leads Xenia to wander the streets of St. Petersburg clothed in her husband’s tattered military uniform, doling out her worldly possessions. Surprisingly, amid all this drama it is the quiet portrait of Dasha that is the high point of The Mirrored World. While most will be drawn to the fictionalized account of one of Russia’s most holy saints, it is the all-too-human story about the woman behind the saint that truly captivates.