Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: "Enchantments" by Kathryn Harrison

From Goodreads:  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 Aloysha, 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 Thoughts:  I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Enchantments was a very strange book.  The narrator of the story is Rasputin's older daughter, Masha, and most of the book is made up of stories told by Masha to the Tsarevich Aleksei (Alyosha).  She tells him stories about her childhood and events that happened during the reign of his parents but they are extremely fantastical and kind of misplaced.  The author had Masha tell Alyosha the story of the tragedy at Khodynka Field on the day of Tsar Nikolai's coronation but with this weird Master and Margarita twist.  I kind of had this 'wait, what?' moment when I saw how the author alluded to M & M and for some reason it really bothered me.  The Master and Margarita was written in the 1930s so it didn't exist in 1917 when Enchantments takes place so it doesn't make sense that Masha would include that in a story.  Also, there is this weird point where Behemoth (the cat who follows the devil in M & M) says "Am I not the shit?".  Umm, for one, this sounds like a modern saying and for two, what well-educated girl in 1917 would have incorporated this statement into a story?  I know it's stupid but that really got under my skin because the book seemed completely unrealistic.  I know it's fiction but it's 'historical fiction' so I expect some of it to be realistic.

The book as a whole was well-written and very descriptive but at the same time seemed long winded and very slow moving.  It took me a lot longer to get through the book than I would have expected.  I did like the way Alyosha was portrayed; normally he is sickly and kind of sad but Harrison portrayed him as a tough, pragmatic young man and it was nice to see that.  I also liked the part at the end where you are reading about the tsar's family being imprisoned in the Ipatiev house.  This was told from Alyosha's perspective and was actually the best part of the book.  Otherwise, I really just did not enjoy this book.  As much as I love Russian history, and especially the fall of the Russian empire, I could not get into this book at all. 2 stars.

1 comment:

  1. I know tiny bits of Russian history - like, I knew about the haemophilia - but not too much, so this looks interesting without confusing me. Did that even make sense? Sorry, I'm a little sleepy today!

    Anyway, it's a shame you didn't enjoy it much. I've heard such good things about it, but it does sound like the anachronisms would annoy me too.

    Have a great week :)

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