Author: Kathryn Harrison
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Genre: Historical Fiction
How I Read It: ARC received from the publisher – The views expressed in my review are mine alone and I have received no compensation for these opinions.
Synopsis: From Kathryn Harrison, one of America’s most admired literary voices, comes a gorgeously written, enthralling novel set in the final days of Russia’s Romanov Empire.
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 Alyosha, 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.
My Review: If you know anything about the Romanov family, Enchantments is the kind of story that will make you feel. As is the case with all historical fiction dealing with well known royals, we know how this story will end, and it’s not a happy ending. We go on a journey with Masha and Alyosha, both during their time together and after they are separated, which is a fantastical and magical thing to share.
I didn’t know that Rasputin had any children, so I was surprised to learn that he actually was a married man with two legitimate daughters and a son. Much of the story concerning Masha is entirely fictional, as I didn’t see any evidence in internet searches that indicate Rasputin’s daughters spent any time with the Romanov family after his death. That being said, I don’t think a lot of people vaguely familiar with Rasputin know about his family, this isn’t something I learned much about in school, so it makes for a great story using a group of people who actually lived.
The adventures are all through stories, as we all know now that Alyosha was a hemophiliac and didn’t get much time outdoors in his life. Masha makes up all kinds of stories for him, some using real characters from their lives, such as members of their family, or making up Handsome Alyosha who is able to do all the things the real Alyosha could never do. It really helps you feel like there’s a little bit of light in this otherwise hopeless situation, and does make me a little more sad that this piece is completely fictional.
There is a bit of a blossoming romance between Masha and Alyosha, although they’re both so young that it really is only the start of something that could have eventually become more. Unfortunately, we’re working under a limited timeframe given the actual historical events, though I would have loved to see a story using the conspiracy theory that Alyosha did live and perhaps went on to have the life he wanted with Masha.
Once Masha and Alyosha part ways, we see the rest of her adulthood unfold, and through other means we learn of some of the last parts of Alyosha’s life. In this book, he doesn’t have any false hope that he or his family will live – which makes me wonder how the real boy handled this portion of his life. Was it easier for him, since he likely knew his life came with an expiration date anyway? Either way, what a horrible way to live.
I had a hard time reading the end of the lives of the Romanov family, simply because of the knowledge of their true end. It’s a very emotional book, covering details I didn’t know and making me realize how terrifying these last few months must have been for them. I’m generally a sympathizer with most murdered royals, this family being no exception, and I spent a lot of tears as we got closer and closer to the end. I always wish this could end differently!
Read this book if: Although this is an emotionally charged one, I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, particularly set in Russia during this time.
My Rating: 4/5 – Borderline amazing!