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The Mirrored World: A Novel

The Mirrored World: A Novel

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The Mirrored World: A Novel

avaliações:
3.5/5 (23 avaliações)
Comprimento:
243 página
4 horas
Lançado em:
Aug 28, 2012
ISBN:
9780062198921
Formato:
Livro

Descrição

The critically acclaimed author of The Madonnas of Leningrad (“Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share” —Isabel Allende), Debra Dean returns with The Mirrored World, a breathtaking novel of love and madness set in 18th century Russia. Transporting readers to St. Petersburg during the reign of Catherine the Great, Dean brilliantly reconstructs and reimagines the life of St. Xenia, one of Russia’s most revered and mysterious holy figures, in a richly told and thought-provoking work of historical fiction that recounts the unlikely transformation of a young girl, a child of privilege, into a saint beloved by the poor.
Lançado em:
Aug 28, 2012
ISBN:
9780062198921
Formato:
Livro

Sobre o autor

Debra Dean worked as an actor in New York theater for nearly a decade before opting for the life of a writer and teacher. She and her husband now live in Miami, where she teaches at the University at Miami. She is at work on her second novel.


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  • I have reached an age when I can see how little all my possessions were worth and even to feel them as a burden on my soul. But the effort to rid my-self of it all . . . as Xenia once said, the things of the world cling like vines.

  • Yes, this was her house many years ago, when she was still Xenia. The things you see here—the few furnishings, the books and mementos—they are mine. I have sold and given away much; only a little remains. A feather. This stone with a white ring round it.

  • As it happens, this is doubly true of those possessions which are immaterial—the griefs and fears, my reason which I have prized beyond measure, the memories that feel like the sum of me. I am not a holy fool who can give these up.

  • Nadya hissed, and when this had no effect, “You don’t know a thing. You cannot.” She bit her lip, turned, and ran after Aunt Galya.

  • Xenia once said, the things of the world cling like vines.

Amostra do Livro

The Mirrored World - Debra Dean

Publisher

The Ice Palace

CHAPTER ONE

Yes, this was her house many years ago, when she was still Xenia. The things you see here—the few furnishings, the books and mementos—they are mine. I have sold and given away much; only a little remains. A feather. This stone with a white ring round it. A bird’s skull. Look how delicate it is, thinner than porcelain. This scrap of gold lace from the sleeve of a court dress. I have reached an age when I can see how little all my possessions were worth and even to feel them as a burden on my soul. But the effort to rid myself of it all . . . as Xenia once said, the things of the world cling like vines.

As it happens, this is doubly true of those possessions which are immaterial—the griefs and fears, my reason which I have prized beyond measure, the memories that feel like the sum of me. I am not a holy fool who can give these up.

THE EARLIEST MEMORY—BLACKNESS, AND IN this blackness the sound of church bells clanging wildly—it is of her coming. Clambering down from the bed I share with my nyanya, a treacherous descent in the dark, I go to the window. The dusky summer sky is shimmering. Orange, violet, red—the northern lights pulse and flare—and in the street, a man falls to his knees and crosses himself. People are shouting, their words a blur but infused with unmistakable urgency. A riderless white horse careens into view. It rears up and then races on, its tail and mane flying like ragged sails behind it. Frightened, I return to the bed and press my body against Olga’s. The next image is that of our bedroom door bursting open and through it, an enormous wolf entering. The wolf says, quite calmly, that its house is afire.

For years, I believed this to be an uncommonly vivid dream. It was only much later, upon hearing my nurse talking about events long past—as old ones are wont to do, as I am doing even now—that I recognized in her story certain unmistakable features of my dream.

There was a terrible fire late in the summer of 1736, the sixth year of Her Imperial Majesty Anna Ioannovna’s reign and the fourth year of my life. The fire was said to have begun in a stable near what is now Sadovaya Street, but it spread like a storm through the city. People fled their homes with only those few things they could carry, icons and tableware, a handful of jewelry, whatever they had snatched up in their alarm. One man was seen dragging his bed through the street. An old woman was found in her nightclothes, clutching a squawking goose to her breast. There was no fire brigade then, nor means to draw water from the canals, and in the end over two thousand houses were lost. What I mistook for the northern lights was the entire Admiralty district being consumed by flames.

What I took for a wolf was Xenia. Her mother had escaped their home carrying a daughter in her arms, five rubles in a velvet purse, and a sausage that had been hanging on the larder door. She crossed the pontoon bridge over the Neva, her elder daughter and a servant trailing behind, and walked until she came upon a house she knew, belonging to her husband’s cousin. They arrived at our doorstep in the middle of the night. The houseman carried Xenia to my bed, still bundled in a fur lap robe and slung on his shoulder.

You shrieked at the sight of her, Olga told me later. I could not calm you.

After the fire, Olga’s place in the bed was taken by Xenia and her sister, Nadya. Their father and mine were off fighting the Turks, and so while the city was rebuilding they lived with us. By Olga’s account, I slept fitfully for weeks afterwards, plagued by night terrors. What I recall is the sound of howling. Petersburg was much smaller then, muddy and raw and shadowed by forest, and at night one might still hear wolves. I could not help myself, I clutched at Xenia because my nurse was not there. I whimpered to her my fear that the wolves were coming to eat us.

They are not hungry, she whispered. They are singing.

I was not so easily mollified. It did not sound like singing.

That is because you are not a wolf. Listen. She is singing of how lonesome she is. The long wail did indeed sound bereft. After a while, a second voice joined the first. There, her mate is answering. It must be a very beautiful sound to her.

She twined her arms round me. I am here, Dashenka. You are not alone. On the word alone, she made her voice rise into a howl. I giggled.

Now you answer, she said.

What?

You must sing, too.

I answered her howls with my own until Nadya snapped at us to be still and let her sleep.

It was intended that they stay only until their father returned, but he perished the following year at the storming of Ochakiv. Their future was resettled in that moment. They remained, and I forgot that there had ever been a time before them.

Whatever we know as children, this is the world, eaten whole and without question. So it was with Xenia: I did not think her strange, though an accounting of her features alone would set her apart. She was tall and thin as a willow slip, her nose and chin were rather too sharp, and her pale hair so fine that it continually escaped ribbons and combs. When she moved, wisps lifted and floated about her head, giving her the unkempt and airy appearance of a dandelion blown to seed. Following the science of physiognomy, one might discover her character by this and also by her eyes, which were uncommonly bright but of no definite hue, being very green in one light but the color of hazelnuts in another.

I am reminded of a curiosity we saw as children, housed in the Kunstkamera. This device resembled a sailor’s eyeglass. However, peering into the eyepiece, one did not view the ordinary world beyond the glass. Improbably, the horizon filled with brightly colored shards of light, a brilliant mosaic that could be made to break apart and re-form into endless new patterns simply by turning a small knob. It did not seem possible that a narrow brass tube could contain so huge and magnificent a wonder, and yet it did.

Some few days after we visited the museum, I remember, Xenia picked up a feather from the ground and was as giddy as if she had found a ruby in the dirt.

She held it up to the light. Look.

It is a raven’s feather, I thought. My countenance must have shown my ignorance.

It is black, but look what happens. She rolled the quill slowly between her fingers. Do you see it, the blue? And now emerald . . . Colors shimmered on its oily surface. And there is purple! And even red. It is like the Kaleidoscope!

I saw then that it was an astonishing feather.

When I parroted her admiration, she handed it to me without a blink. It is yours, she said. In this same manner, she later gifted me with the bird’s skull and the skipping stone and various insects and wildflowers—my own museum of wonders and curiosities.

What consumed her one moment was forgotten in the next, but while in the grip of a passion, she could not be swayed from it, no matter how reckless. She ate wild mushrooms without first bringing them home for Olga to inspect. She approached mangy cats and dogs in the street and would coax into friendly submission even those who warned her off with low growls or arched backs. None ever bit her, but the reward for her undiscriminating friendliness was that she smelled of garlic from Olga continually treating her for ringworm.

One summer, when we were at my family’s country house, she determined that the view of the river must be incomparable from the vantage of a particular tree limb stretching out over the water. She knotted her smock round her waist and, catching at a low branch, shimmied up the trunk to a high limb and then to a higher one yet.

Oh, Dasha, she cried. It is even finer than I imagined. This must be how angels view the world. I wonder if I can see our house. She wriggled like a caterpillar out on the limb until she was perched high over the fast water.

I am an angel, she proclaimed, and held her arms out from her sides like wings.

When she fell, the water closed over her and she disappeared. I splashed into the river and stopped shin-deep, stricken. A little farther downriver she reemerged, gasping and thrashing at the surface, then sank and did not come up again.

Like Lot’s wife, who turned into a pillar of salt, I was still gazing on the place where she had last gone down when I heard her call out.

Here I am.

Turning, I saw her staggering up the towpath. Her wet smock was pasted onto her dripping skin, and she alternated between coughing and laughing.

I am a fallen angel.

A WORLD THAT HAS ANGELS must also have its demons. In the way of children, rank within our little society was determined by our relative ages. By virtue of a year, Xenia’s sister, Nadya, might order us about and strike us without cause, and she was not shy to do either.

One of our pastimes was to reenact stories we had heard from our mothers. Nadya played a grand duchess or a German princess, Xenia was the noble lady’s younger sister or a lady-in-waiting, and I was cast as a servant. My little brother, Vanya, served as was needed for a pet spaniel or monkey. In whatever configuration, though, the game turned on Nadya’s being endlessly demanding and capricious. She might send one of us to fetch something, a ribbon for her hair or a tray of sweetmeats, but when we returned with the imaginary item, invariably the ribbon was the wrong color—she wanted the green, not the yellow—the sweets were inferior, and she had not asked for her pet monkey after all but for her parrot.

Once, she asked me to bring a letter that had recently been sent her by an admirer. Dutifully, I left our room, waited a bit, and then returned with the imaginary missive.

Well, where is it? Nadya demanded.

Here, my lady, I said, and pretended to pinch something between my thumb and forefinger.

No, fool. The letter I want is in the drawer of my dressing table. It is tied with a blue ribbon.

I broke the spell of the game. Do you mean my father’s letter? I whispered, like an actor seeking a prompt.

She glared at me with convincing menace. "My letter. Bring it here this instant, before I lose patience."

I remained motionless, considering whether to go out into the passage and try again.

She rebuked me with a slap. Go! she shrieked.

I ran to my mother’s dressing room and slid open the drawer. Inside was a fine handkerchief of embroidered linen that had been given to her by Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna when my mother left her service to be married. Next to this was the packet of letters written by my father. The most recent had arrived only the previous day. My mother had sent for the priest to read it to her and take down a reply, and afterwards had put it away here, together with the others.

I hesitated. On occasion, I had been allowed to open the drawer and look at the handkerchief, but never to disturb the contents. If I were discovered, I would be punished, but if I did not return to Nadya with the letter I should also be punished. Weighing the two dangers, I chose to dodge that which was nearer. I slipped the thin envelope from the top of the packet and carried it back to Nadya.

Here, my lady.

She took it from me and opened the envelope. Glancing cursorily over the paper, Nadya read aloud: ‘To the most beautiful lady in all of Russia—’

Is that what it says? I asked.

Of course.

But I mean, truly?

Are you calling me a liar?

I did not know how Nadya might have learnt to read. Still, it was the accepted condition of being youngest that everyone was gifted with knowledge unavailable to me.

‘To the most beautiful lady in all of Russia,’ she began again. The letter went on to proclaim my father’s admiration in many florid phrases. He pleaded that my mother send some sign that his affection was reciprocated.

I had no memory of my father, though he had been a constant, unseen presence in our household. His name was repeated in our daily prayers, and when any decision was to be made, my mother invoked him, wondering aloud if Nikolai Feodosievich would approve of this or that.

‘If you do not care for me,’ Nadya continued to read, ‘I shall surely die.’

I was caught in the spell of hearing his words and peered over her shoulder that I might see them as well. What is this? I asked, pointing to an intriguing shape like a rowboat reflected on water.

That? That means ‘send.’

And this?

That is ‘die.’ It’s simple, Nadya said. Look. She drew her finger slowly under a line of mysterious strokes and curls and pronounced their meaning. ‘To the most beautiful princess in all of the Russias.’ Now you read it.

I tried to link the images to words, but what had meant send in one line meant something else in the next.

I cannot.

It is the same words, Nadya snapped. ‘To the most beautiful princess . . .’ Just repeat what I say.

But I wanted to read it for myself. I stared fixedly at the place where Nadya pointed and saw what looked like snippets of black hair. Flour laced with weevils. A regiment of tiny soldiers on new snow. But no meaning in any of it. The insects on the page blurred.

Look! Nadya pointed to an inky puddle on the paper. Now you have spoilt it.

I began to cry in earnest.

Be quiet, Nadya snarled. They will hear you. Her warning served only to raise the pitch of my wailing. She pulled off one of her shoes and raised it threateningly. I said be quiet. Do you want a whipping?

Xenia also tried to quiet me. Don’t take it to heart, Dashenka. It was only pretend. Nadya can’t read either.

When Nadya turned and struck her across the cheek, Xenia did not cry out or even flinch. Oddly, her silence enraged Nadya all the more, who struck her again and then again with more force as though to jar loose some response.

I closed my eyes but could not shut out the sound, over and over, of leather on flesh. Then it slowed and stopped.

When I peeked through my fingers, they stood just as they had, Nadya with the shoe raised above her head, and Xenia facing her, but Xenia . . . How may I tell this? Though her flesh was pocked with welts, she looked as though she had eaten something airy and sweet and was still holding the taste on her tongue.

Nadya’s hand began to tremble, and she could not meet Xenia’s bright gaze without glancing away again. As though Xenia were willing it, she slowly lowered her arm.

I COULD NOT SEE IT then, any more than one can see the pattern on the back side of a tapestry. A knight, a swan, a ring of flowers—on the reverse they are only a muddle of color, the woof and warp of tangled threads picked up and then dropped again.

We passed them in the streets, poor senseless wretches talking to the air. These were women without husbands or children, without any history to lend them meaning. So far as we knew, they had always been there. One amongst these, whom Olga called the Blessed One, lived on the steps of the church. She was always in this same place, wrapped in a filthy sheepskin. Olga would bring her a dish of kasha or a sardine and set it at her feet, but the old woman never thanked her or acknowledged by a look that she knew us. She stared straight before her like a horse asleep on its feet, or she ranted to unseen presences whom she accused of terrible crimes. Olga said we must show her pity, but she was terrifying, bedraggled and toothless, and it was like trying to find pity for a toad or a wolf.

As we were coming out of the church one morning, the old woman suddenly reached out and caught hold of Xenia. Pinned, Xenia thrashed and tried to escape her grip, but the old one held fast and, by looking into Xenia’s eyes, seemed to enchant her into stillness.

This one sees, the old woman pronounced.

Olga crossed herself. What? What does she see, Blessed One?

The old woman released Xenia’s wrist. Ask her yourself.

But Xenia was wide-eyed with terror. She stared back at the Blessed One and would not answer.

At the time, I assumed she was afraid of the old woman. Now I wonder if she was not more afraid of what the old woman saw in her.

CHAPTER TWO

It may be that I am among the last persons alive to have seen with my own eyes the palace of Empress Anna Ioannovna’s jester. Even so, everyone knows the story, and in the telling and retelling, from nurse to child, it has acquired the patina of a fairy tale. I have sometimes seen my son, Matvey, smile indulgently when I have said to other guests that I was there and all this is true. I do not fault him. Even to me, the memory seems implausible, but this is just as it happened.

When she was young, the future empress was betrothed to a German duke. Her uncle, the great Tsar Peter, had arranged the marriage and had brought the duke to Russia for a spectacular wedding. There were many weeks of raucous celebration, and on the last night before the new couple were to leave for his homeland, the Tsar challenged the

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  • (5/5)
    The Mirrored World by Debra Dean takes the reader back to eighteenth century Russia and through Daria, Xenia's cousin, the reader learns about the trials and tribulations of Xenia, an outwardly appearing ordinary young women who would eventually become known through history as St. Xenia. Dean writes with an expert hand and through exquisite prose and an exceptional eye for detail effortlessly draws the reader into eighteenth century Russia. The readers will easily feel for Dean's characters and like this reader, be unable to set the book down. I highly recommend The Mirrored World to all who enjoy historical fiction. For those who do not think historical fiction is an enjoyable genre, I suggest giving The Mirrored World a chance.
  • (4/5)
    In her latest book, Debra Dean explores the world of St. Xenia, a Russian saint who was known for her gifts to the poor, through a fictional account told by Xenia's cousin. Xenia was a selfless soul throughout her life. She met her husband and eventually had a daughter, but tragedy struck Xenia, leaving her grief-stricken. Seeking solace, she began to give away her money and items of wealth to the poor. Xenia also had a keen sense of the future, often predicting how people would die. Between her charity and soothsaying, Xenia became revered by the poor but a threat to the crown (specifically Catherine the Great).It took me a long time to fall into the rhythm of this book. I almost abandoned it when I reached the halfway point, but I am glad I persevered. The Mirrored World is brilliant in leaving you with the question of whether Xenia was truly a godly creature or a woman driven mad by grief. Additionally, its exploration into the ascension of Catherine the Great left me wanting to learn more. If you like historical fiction, consider The Mirrored World for a quick read.
  • (3/5)
    This is a novel based on a real-life historical figure, Saint Xenia. She was a Russian woman who, following her husband's death, went made gave away all of her possessions to the poor of St. Petersburgh. She lived for many years, possessing what many believed to be prophetizing powers.The book, however, was a bit disappointing. I didn't think the characters were particularly well developed; their portrayal was shallow. Dasha, Xenia's cousin, is the narrator. She wasn't a particularly interesting character in her own right and, as narrator, she pretty much told the facts without much depth of feeling. Madonnas of Leningrad was so much better!
  • (3/5)
    St. Xenia of St. Petersburg is a saint I had never heard of. This book was quite fascinating, the decadence of the court of the Empress Elizabeth, the introduction of Catherine, the Winter Palace, the balls, the idle lifestyles, the banquets that went on forever are wonderfully portrayed. The book is narrated by Xenia's cousin and it is through her that we learn of Xenia's life. After the death of her beloved husband, Xenia quickly looses her bearings and becomes more than dissatisfied with the empty lives of the nobility and court hanger ons. Enjoyed this book but am not sure if Xenia was really a saint or just some mad from grief. I did look her up and it said many miracles were attributed to her grave-site so who knows, I guess anything is possible.
  • (4/5)
    This is tale of life in St. Petersburg as a young woman of the minor nobility loses her mind after the death of her child then her husband. Told through the eyes of a fictional cousin, this tale of the woman who would become St. Xenia is dark, mysterious and compelling. It is, though as much the story of the cousin as it is of Xenia.The story is very interesting and the history of Russia is always fascinating. Fact and fiction are woven together well to create a mood that is dark and unsettled. Xenia has a knack for seeing the future and this disturbs her family; she is a very free spirit in a time of circumspection. When she loves, she loves completely and this is what leads to her downfall when she loses all that is dear to her. The book is not long and Ms. Deans writing style brings you into the story despite its dark overtones. Xenia is a fascinating character and I truly wish there had been more of her but I suppose there can only be so much wandering around the poor sections of town in a husband's uniform before there is no story. The family stories are very interesting and help to bind Xenia's life choices together. I enjoyed the story and Ms. Dean's descriptive passages.
  • (3/5)
    The Mirrored World" by Debra Dean is a very short historical novel about St. Xenia. I thought I would be enchanted by the Russian world in the 1700's. The cover is gorgeous. I really love historical fiction. I loved the part at the beginning about material possessions weighing down the soul. And also the idea of very old memories of childhood seeming like a dream. That I loved so much.Then, as the book went on, I lost that previous enchantment. I had read of Catherine the Great before and the book refers to her as the German princess but it only touches on her shortly. I would have loved to have seen the tying together of the poverty of the beggars and the opulence of royalty. Xenia found great beauty and fascination in nature when she was a child and later she referred to herself as a fool. I couldn't get inside of her feelings or thoughts. There was not enough depth to Xenia or Nadia, the friend that she grew up with.The subject of a mad woman who gains saint hood could have been so much more satisfying than it was. I had read of Catherine the Great before and the book refers to her as the German princess but it only touches on her briefly. I would have loved to have seen the contrasts between the poverty of the beggars and the opulence of royalty. I wanted more information about the Russian customs. Xenia found great beauty and fascination in nature when she was a child and later she referred to herself as a fool. I got angry at her for not understanding herself as a child. I couldn't get inside of her feelings or thoughts. There was not enough depth to Xenia or Nadia, the friend that she grew up with.The subject of a mad woman who gains sainthood could have been so much more satisfying than it was. I received this book from the Amazon Vine Program but that had no influence upon my review.
  • (3/5)
    I suspect this shall be one of those reviews that sounds like I didn't like the book, but I did for the most part, so make note of that. Debra Dean writes beautifully, and I never found my attention waning from The Mirrored World. However, the story really lacked any sort of emotional impact or connection, largely because of the over-brisk pacing and dull main character.Let me start, however, with what kept The Mirrored World a positive read for me. For one thing, I am hugely into anything about Russia or the Soviet Union, thus my interest in Dean's novel. There's something about Russia I find so captivating, and I suspect that has to do with the wide divide between the serfs and the upper classes. The pomposity of the events and the exhibitionism of the tsars and tsarinas is astounding. Dean delves into the excesses of the reins of Elizabeth, Peter III, and Catherine the Great. Throughout are such historical goodies as a party where Elizabeth ordered everyone to crossdress or the way she married off people for her own entertainment. I was definitely in it for the historical pageantry, and that was enough to get me through.Unfortunately, the pace moves so quickly through time that much of history is glossed over, like watching decades of Russian history pass by from a bullet train. The Mirrored World clocks in at just over 200 pages, and it could have been much longer. In those pages, Dean takes Dasha from a child to an old woman, which gives you a sense of how quickly the pace goes. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but this novel is not a humorous one and meaning was obscured in the rush to the finish.Dasha, however, is the biggest obstacle. She has almost no personality, and is more an observer of the people around her than anything. Of course, the people around her are interesting, but I kept expecting their to be a purpose to her, for her to learn something or do something in the course of the narrative, but she only ever reflected the values of those around her, particularly Xenia, though for a while she reflects her eunuch husband, who was definitely my favorite character.More than anything, The Mirrored World is a tale of Dasha mirroring Xenia's life. She follows the lively Xenia everywhere, going to live with Xenia and her husband after the marriage. When Xenia tells Dasha to wed Gaspari, Dasha does. As Xenia becomes a holy fool, Dasha turns more and more to charity, even with the prospect of bankrupting herself in the process, as Xenia did before her. Their dynamic baffled me, and is perhaps a bit alien to our culture.While a prettily-written novel, The Mirrored World failed to captivate me, skimming on the surface of history, rather than really diving in to where the feelings and the meaning reside. I liked it, but couldn't help comparing it to another book I enjoyed more set in the exact same time period, The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. By no means will this experience with Debra Dean be my last, but I do hope for a bit more from The Madonnas of Leningrad.
  • (4/5)
    First Line: Yes, this was her house, many years ago, when she was still Xenia.In 1736 when Dasha was only four, a horrible fire destroyed the house of her father's cousin, and the cousin's wife and two daughters, Nadya and Xenia, came to live with them. As they were members of the minor nobility, it was important for everyone in the family to dress in the right clothes, attend all the right functions, and know all the current gossip. Nadya fit into this world. Dasha and Xenia did not.In an age when it was frowned upon for women to know how to read, Dasha was drawn to the printed page and punished many times for trying to sneak into her brother's lessons or trying to teach herself to read. Dasha did not fit in.Neither did Xenia. Xenia always seemed more deeply attuned to the world around her-- the sights, the sounds, the emotions. She grew up to be a dreamer who cared little for social conventions, and who was deeply in love with her husband, Andrei, a soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Only one thing could make Xenia's life complete: a child, and when she gave birth to a daughter, her joy knew no bounds. But her happiness was not meant to last. Tragedy upon tragedy strikes, and a grieving Xenia withdraws from the world. When she begins turning away from family and friends, when she begins giving away all her money, clothing and possessions to the poor, the rich point and whisper... and the poor begin to revere her.Little is known about Xenia, patron saint of St. Petersburg and its poor, and this gives Debra Dean the perfect canvas upon which to create another wonderful portrait of Russia. Her The Madonnas of Leningrad was one of my favorite books the year it was published, and I had high hopes for The Mirrored World. In almost every way, I was not disappointed.If you expect this book to be a deadly boring portrait of a saint, you're the one who's doomed to disappointment. This story is told by Dasha, the little girl who insisted upon learning to read. She grows up to be an intelligent, observant woman who-- like Xenia-- doesn't particularly care for the excesses of the society in which they live. Xenia disappears for a period of several years, and it is up to Dasha to make her own life while remembering her lost friend.Dean is a master of creating layer upon layer of mood, and she's done it again here. The longer I read, the more I disagreed with what the synopsis of the book had told me. According to it, The Mirrored World is all about Xenia, Xenia, Xenia. It's not. How could it really be when Dasha tells the story from beginning to end? No. Dean's lyrical, atmospheric book is the tale of Mary of Bethany and her sister, Martha, set in the extravagant, feckless Russia of the eighteenth century.After a bit of a slow beginning, the book rapidly gains power and intensity through to the end. Earlier I said that I was pleased "in almost every way." In which way was I not pleased? The book was too short... although there is much to be said for a writer who leaves you wanting more.
  • (4/5)
    St. Xenia is a Russian saint who lived in the time of the Empresses Anna Ioannova, Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great. She was called a "fool for Christ" and lived on the streets and the cemeteries of St. Petersburg for more than forty years, giving all of her possessions and any alms offered to her to the poor around her. But her life started out far from the streets as a member of a family of the minor aristocracy, among those on the outer fringes of the Tsarina's court. Debra Dean's new novel The Mirrored World fills out Xenia's early life and what led her to the life of poverty, want, and denial to which she felt called. Told through the eyes of Dasha, Xenia's beloved cousin, the novel is related by Dasha as an old woman looking back on her life. She takes us first to when the girls are young and Dasha looks up to her older, dreamy, and distracted, arts-loving cousin, to when the two girls become close. Despite Xenia's social gaffes, she makes a love match in her marriage unlike her poised and elegant sister and she is nurtured by her husband Andrei's great love for her. Dasha seems unlikely to ever marry and Xenia invites her to live with she and her soldier/chorister husband. Although Andrei and Xenia struggle to have a child, when they are finally blessed with a baby, it seems as if the sun shines on their small family and all will be good in their world. But this is Russia, the land of winter, and after two crushing tragedies, Xenia is a husk of herself, grieving and frozen, locked inside her own head and going mad. When she finally comes back to life, she starts giving all of her possessions away to the poor while Dasha tries to stem the tide and save something, anything for themselves. But Xenia can no longer be contained and she disappears into the streets of St. Petersburg only to eventually resurface wearing the ragged remains of Andrei's military uniform and continuing to survive on handouts, sharing her meager finds and alms with all those in need around her. When Xenia disappears, Dasha becomes the focus and the path of her own life takes precedence in the story. She marries an Italian eunuch from the Russian court and lives with her Gaspari in harmony if not love for several years, continuing to minister to the needy when she can, in her cousin's honor, and continuing always to look for her beloved Xenia. Dasha's odd marriage is never accepted and Gaspari's outsider status at the court allows him to hear much of the labyrinthine inner workings and accurate gossip that the more connected might have been protected or excluded from. And so the reader is treated to a spectacularly exposed view of the royal court. As in her previous, marvelous novel The Madonnas of Leningrad, Dean has written a gorgeous tale. She has evoked the Russia of the time with the petty cruelties of the court, the uncertainties of the time, the wide gap between the wealthy and the poor, the social structure, especially as it pertained to women and their status, and the turmoil from the streets on up through the ranks. There is a mystical, almost elegaic feel to the narration and the mood is icy and foreboding throughout much of the novel. It is smooth and ethereal but completely engrossing. Xenia remains a hard to know character as she succumbs to her God-inspired madness but her passion for the intangibles that have touched her life shines. Dasha is a less interesting character but is necessary to the narrative, especially once Xenia would have been unable to narrate her own tale. And Dasha herself adds to the wealth that is Xenia's narrative with her love, respect, and care for this otherwordly cousin. The missing time in Xenia's life, that when she is absent from the novel, feeds into the mystery of where she has gone and although her absence is a hole in the novel, Dasha as narrator has no idea where Xenia is so the reader cannot either. Truly if there is any complaint to make about the novel it is that it is too short pushing the reader back out into the light of real world before he or she has finished with the forbidding coldness of St. Petersburg.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed this book more for the historical aspect than any other element. This book tells the story of St. Xenia of Russia through the eyes of her cousin, who loves her dearly. The story of their relationship and how Xenia's descent into madness affects her was well-written even if it was a tad two-dimensional at times. What I really enjoyed was the depiction of life in St. Petersburg during the life of Empress Elizabeth and the rise of Catherine the Great. This world in Russia, with all of its political turmoil, was extremely fascinating and made the book worth reading. This book was a goodreads giveaway.
  • (1/5)
    Full-disclosure: I received an advance reader's copy of this book through the First Reads program. I doubt anyone will think my opinion was bought.

    What a disappointment. I admit, I was lured in by the beautiful cover. Upon realizing it was a retelling of the life of St Xenia, I consulted google to learn more. I did not realize that the two line biography--Her husband died. She went mad and gave away all her belongings.--summed up the entire story. I flipped rapidly through the last 50-75 pages. And missed nothing.

    While the beginning showed promise, by mid-book, it fell flat. Such a disappointing book.
  • (5/5)
    I don't think I've read anything else set in eighteenth-century Russia. So, in spite of that, or possibly because of that, I was enormously impressed by how Ms Dean brought this world to life. I found her writing elegant but accessible and the storyline compelling. The events which took place found just the right balance of shock and sadness to compel me to keep reading. That said, I was surprised by the amount of the plot revealed in the blurb and I would have preferred more finality in the ending. So, maybe 4.5 stars ~ but still a memorable novel.
  • (4/5)
    This is the first novel I've read by this author and I am now eager to read more of her work. It's an imagined recreation of the life of St. Xenia, told from the perspective of her cousin Dasha. Xenia and Dasha come from privileged families who are connected to the royal family in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.The descriptions of the royal court and of St. Petersburg bring the time period to life and create a very richly detailed sense of setting. Xenia, coming from a well-to-do family, is content with parties and dresses until tragedy strikes and changes her worldview. Suddenly aware of the inequity of the society in which she lives, she shuns worldly goods in favor of helping the poor, much to the chagrin of her family.The novel explores her transformation from the eyes of a close family member, who is mystified by Xenia's transformation and alternately thinks her both mad and divinely blessed. Because of this perspective, the reader never truly sees the world through Xenia's eyes, which left something feeling a bit lacking in the novel. I would have liked a deeper rendering of the inner workings, even imagined, of Xenia's own mind and perspective.Nonetheless, the story is beautifully written, captivating, and brings to life a fascinating period of history in which the lavish life of the royal court contrasts sharply with the deprivation of the poor. Xenia's character bridges these worlds as the author paints a riveting historical backdrop to her story. A very enjoyable read.
  • (3/5)
    Xenia is Russia's most-beloved saint. She lived in the 18th century, beginning as a woman of influence and privilege and then giving away everything after her husband's death to help the poor. Her family was shocked to see her living in the slums and Catherine the Great considered her a threat.Told through the eyes of Xenia's cousin, Dasha, The Mirrored World is a story of Catherine the Great's court and of all of the people outside looking in. Through Dasha's frank clear voice, Xenia stops being a figure on an icon and becomes an actual person whose sainthood is understood within the context of her history. Aren't we all the sum of our choices and of our history - guided this way and that, sometimes by choice, sometimes by chance. Xenia's life in many ways illustrates the fact that life can go almost anywhere - anything can happen. It's a magical tale told well.
  • (3/5)
    An interesting depiction of a little-known historical figure - Xenia of St. Petersburg, who was born into nobility but became the patron saint of her city. Seen through the eyes of her cousin Dasha, Xenia's story emerges as the tale of a grieving wife who turns her sorrow into working with St. Petersburg's poor. A good read, but not as engrossing as The Madonnas of Leningrad.
  • (3/5)
    1790's Russian court - good holiday read to escape to a different world
  • (4/5)
    This is tale of life in St. Petersburg as a young woman of the minor nobility loses her mind after the death of her child then her husband. Told through the eyes of a fictional cousin, this tale of the woman who would become St. Xenia is dark, mysterious and compelling. It is, though as much the story of the cousin as it is of Xenia.The story is very interesting and the history of Russia is always fascinating. Fact and fiction are woven together well to create a mood that is dark and unsettled. Xenia has a knack for seeing the future and this disturbs her family; she is a very free spirit in a time of circumspection. When she loves, she loves completely and this is what leads to her downfall when she loses all that is dear to her. The book is not long and Ms. Deans writing style brings you into the story despite its dark overtones. Xenia is a fascinating character and I truly wish there had been more of her but I suppose there can only be so much wandering around the poor sections of town in a husband's uniform before there is no story. The family stories are very interesting and help to bind Xenia's life choices together. I enjoyed the story and Ms. Dean's descriptive passages.
  • (5/5)
    The Mirrored World is a truly captivating read. The writing is elegant and classical, almost poetic. This enhances the mystical setting of 18th century Russia, a time and place that I know very little about. Debra Dean's writing easily connects the reader to the characters. Their life circumstances are thoroughly developed, allowing true emotion to be felt by the reader. The historical accuracies are interlaced well throughout this engaging story. This has inspired me to learn more about St. Petersburg and its rich history.
  • (4/5)
    I wish it were longer and non-fiction. Though, the unknown sometimes is best left alone, my heart weeps for Xenia and Dasha.
  • (3/5)
    This book was inspired by the life of Xenia, patron saint of St. Petersburg, but is told from the perspective of her (imaginary, I think) cousin. We watch as Xenia falls madly in love and her complete devastation following her husbands death. As Xenia finds solace in giving her belongings for the poor and slowly transforms into a pauper revered as a “holy fool”, her cousin must decide whether Xenia needs saving from herself or just support in her choices. Her cousins life is also deeply impacted by Xenia’s transformation which helps her find love in the most unlikely of places.The first thing that struck me about this book was the gorgeous and evocative imagery. Early on, the narrator remembers a fire that occurred when she was very young and the author did an amazing job conveying the feel of the scene with just a few of the narrator’s impressions. Every sentence was well crafted, every word carefully chosen to form a certain image. This was true throughout the book. Because the author did such a wonderful job conveying what it felt like to be in a particular scene, I felt as though I was present with the main character and empathized deeply with her feelings.I’ll definitely want to find a non-fiction book about this era as well, because the historical details were fascinating. Overlapping the beginning of Catherine the Great’s rule of Russia, it seems being part of the court could be very dangerous as harsh punishments were visited on those who displeased the empress. My one complaint with this book is that despite the sometimes dangerous situations, I never felt concerned about our protagonist. And for all that the events sound exciting when you describe them, I found the plot somewhat bland and un-engaging because of my lack of worry about what was going to happen next. However, I can’t put my finger on any one thing that may have made me feel uninvolved with the plot, so I think other people might enjoy the book even more than I did.This review first published on Doing Dewey.