four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
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0

748264.pngWidely known for The Kiss (1997), a controversial memoir describing her incestuous relationship with her father, Kathryn Harrison has also written seven novels, a travelogue, a biography of Saint Therese of Lisieux, a book of true crime, and two additional memoirs. Her essays and reviews have appeared in Harper's Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, and Vogue.

The Story: When her father, Russian mystic Grigory Rasputin, is murdered in December 1916, 18-year-old Masha unexpectedly becomes a ward of Tsar Nikolay Romanov. Hoping that the girl possesses the same healing powers as her father, the Tsarina recruits Masha to nurse the heir to the throne, 14-year-old Alexei, who is confined to bed with hemophilia. Masha, however, can only distract the young tsarevitch from his pain with stories both real and fantastic‚ stories of her father, his mother, and the once-powerful empire that is quickly fading around them. As the Bolsheviks transform Russia, the blossoming love between Masha and Alexei becomes defenseless against the political forces sweeping the realm.
Random House. 336 pages. $27. ISBN: 9781400063475

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Harrison' narrative tactics deliver this oft-told moment with shocking freshness, and a major part of the job of any historical fiction is fulfilled. … The Romanov world isn't idealized, exactly, but the way that world is crushed reminds us of a crucial truth: The individual counts, always and forever." Richard Rayner

NYTimes Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"This splendid and surprising book circles through time and around stories both real and imagined, lending a tender perspective to familiar historical events as experienced by two central characters‚ Rasputin' daughter Maria, known as Masha, and Alyosha, the hemophiliac Romanov heir‚ whose physical and emotional suffering acutely remind us of the human lives behind the legends." Susann Cokal

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[The novel] artfully examines the fall of the Romanov Empire in Russia during the early 20th century. … Despite the tragedy and brutality of this story, Harrison manages to bring an authentic innocence to this often-written-about period of Russian history through the refreshing perspective of Masha." S. Kirk Walsh

Globe and Mail (Canada) 4 of 5 Stars
"Harrison doesn't give us a Tolstoyan glimpse of the Russian Revolution; we're never burdened with epic battles between the good and the bad. … Harrison has written a love story, nothing more, nothing less, where the cruel thunder of history can't compete with the enchantment inside Rasputin' daughter' head." Jerome Charyn

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"Its writing is heavy, gleaming and self-serious, like a luxury good, and lacks the spring and verve from which historical fiction, already prone to dustiness, can especially benefit. … But Harrison has taken a tired subject, the Romanovs, and offered a fresh vision of it." Charles Finch

Critical Summary

Although some critics cited a few problems with Harrison' latest historical novel, including an initial lack of momentum and some ponderous language, they were generally pleased with this fresh vision of a worn subject. Harrison combines a touching, if somewhat odd, love story with a fictional account of the downfall of Imperial Russia, and though she doesn't romanticize the era, she does present a vivid portrait of its traditions and people. Readers may already know what will become of the royal family, but that knowledge doesn't lessen the intensity and shock of those final moments. A charmingly melancholy reflection on the power of storytelling, Enchantments, according to USA Today, is "a strange and slow-burning tale, hard to forget."