Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean — 256 pgs

In this tale of hope mirrored with sadness, a young woman named Xenia, raised with impeccable standards in a family of lesser Russian nobles, carves her own strange path through life and death. When Xenia is just a young girl, she falls desperately in love with Andrei, a young singer in the Russian court. Born with the gift of seeing beyond the constraints of this world, Xenia is not your typical Russian woman. When it’s discovered that Andrei returns Xenia’s affections, the two are married and live a life of indisputable ardor. As their love blossoms, tragedy strikes the couple and threatens to tear them apart. Before either can recover, Xenia has a frightening prediction that will leave her shattered forever. Though this prediction actually affects someone else, Xenia’s gift for telling the future brings her only pain and sorrow. When her life changes drastically, Xenia also drastically changes, and becomes like a wisp of smoke in the wind, slowly giving all her possessions to the beggars in the street and descending into a frightening madness that nothing can stop. As the years drift by in a painful and unstoppable progression, Xenia becomes a famed mystic among the residents of Petersburg: a seer of unimaginable power. Her story, both deeply mystical and penetratingly sad, is told from the point of view of her beloved cousin, Dasha, a woman with her own passions and dreams who has been by Xenia’s side since childhood.

It wasn’t until I read this book that I discovered that this was a fictional tale based upon the life of a very famous Russian saint, Xenia of Petersburg. Debra Dean writes convincingly of a woman torn apart by grief, and yet spectacularly awe-inspiring in her ability to foretell future events and bring aid to the poor. One of the things I really liked was that it was told as a fictional tale, without the use of magical realism. While I do enjoy a well crafted story that features magical realism, I feel that this book would have suffered had this effect been included.

The story of Xenia is really a very sad one. It was clear that even as a child, she struggled with visions that she attributed to God and that all came frighteningly true. As she ages, she can see into her own future, and there’s nothing that she can do to prevent what will happen in her life. She does the miraculous but pays for it time and time again. This element of the story wasn’t overtly centered though, so Dean was also able to share the story of Dasha and her life in this tale. For many years, Xenia and Dasha struggled to find their places, both with each other and with the wider world around them.

I could wholeheartedly relate to Dasha in this tale. Her love for Xenia was overwhelming, and she gave up almost all her future prospects to care for her cousin, both before and after her tragedies. Dasha was just as selfless as Xenia was, but she was still concerned with the necessities of life, whereas Xenia strove to free herself from all physical encumbrances. This became a sticking point between the two, with Dasha becoming convinced that Xenia was mad. In her secret heart, she knew this wasn’t true, but Xenia’s startling actions produced a great anxiety in her, and she didn’t know how they would survive if Xenia continued on her path.

When Dasha’s influence over Xenia’s life waned, Xenia went on to become a hero to the people of Russia and a beloved figure who was a gifted seer and who aided the helpless. For years, Dasha struggled with this, and tried repeatedly to bring her home once again. Xenia was beyond the borders of what Dasha could handle, and wanted to live life on her own terms. It was interesting to see the fixed impressions of Dasha change towards her beloved cousin, and for her to accept privately what everyone else already did.

If you’re a fan of mysticism in any way, I would recommend this book to you. Lovers of historical fiction and family sagas will also enjoy this unique look into the famed life of a woman who could be pinned down with no words or actions. While this book is not religious, it is deeply spiritual, and was both engrossing and in some ways fantastical. Though this was a short read, it was rather weighty on matters both practical and spiritual. Recommended.

Author Photo About the Author

Debra Dean’s bestselling debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories,Confessions of a Falling Woman, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

Her new novel, The Mirrored World, will be released August 2012.

A native of Seattle, she lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University.

Connect with Debra on Facebook.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, August 28th:Historical Tapestry - “Why I Love …” Guest Post
Wednesday, August 29th:Reflections of a Bookaholic
Thursday, August 30th:Unabridged Chick
Monday, September 3rd:Lit and Life
Wednesday, September 5th:Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, September 6th:Booktalk & More
Monday, September 10th:The Book Garden
Wednesday, September 12th:Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, September 13th:Man of La Book
Thursday, September 13th:No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, September 17th:BookNAround
Wednesday, September 19th:A Library of My Own
Monday, September 24th:Broken Teepee
Tuesday, September 25th:West Metro Mommy
Wednesday, September 26th:Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, September 27th:Raging Bibliomania
Friday, October 12th:The Written World
TBD:Twisting the Lens

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


bermudaonion said...

Since I don't read much historical fiction and I'm not a fan of mysticism, this may not be the book for me. I still might give it a try though, because it sounds like Dean is a fabulous writer.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I do like the sound of this. Many have said that perhaps it should have been longer though. I'll try it soon, hopefully. Thanks Heather.

Mary (Bookfan) said...

It sounds very Russian, doesn't it? I enjoy historical fiction so I'll keep this one in mind. Great review!

Suko said...

This sounds like a fascinating book! Wonderful review, as usual.

Ti said...

I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction but once in a great while, a book clicks with me. You did a good job of describing who would enjoy a story like this one. Sometimes, that's what I need to decide if I want to read it or not.

Audra said...

Awesome review -- you know I loved this one -- I thought Dasha was a lovely foil to tell Xenia's story -- strange and odd as it was -- you captured what was so good about this book.

Marie Cloutier said...

I loved The Madonnas of Leningrad and will probably read this at some point. Great review- you made me want to pick it up sooner rather than later!

Anonymous said...

After seeing Debra at SIBA I really want to read this one, and now that you've enjoyed it I am even more interested!

Marg said...

I think that I liked this one, but not as much as you did. I like the idea of Debra Dean's books more than I actually like the execution!

Beth F said...

I did enjoy this -- I listened to the audio. I hadn't ever heard of Xenia before reading this book. Mad or holy? Interesting question for us and her family.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I can't wait to read this, especially after hearing her talk about it!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like Dean has packed a great deal into this slim book!

Thanks for being on the tour.

Lisa said...

It was really interesting to watch Dasha's feelings about Xenia change over time. I was so angry at Xenia for not caring more about Dasha and even in the end I wasn't sure it was worth it. But clearly, she did become beloved among the poor and Dasha learned to relive her own live so it worked out.

Jenners said...

Stories about saints are always intersting I think. I love that there is a Saint Xenia. Perhaps she is the patron saint of warrior princesses.

Jules said...

I saw the cover of this book and added it to my TBR without really looking at what it's about. Now I know it's a must read. Sounds like a beautiful story. Great review, thanks for it!

nomadreader said...

I picked this one up at ALA and need to read it. If I read the description I would assume it's 500 pages, but I love authors who can tell a big story with only a few hundred pages.

Buried In Print said...

Sometimes the shortest books have a surprising resonance; I like the way that you've described this one, and the focus on mysticism. It sounds very interesting indeed!

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