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.
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.
|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:
This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.