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Lady of the Snakes

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Overview

Jane Levitsky is a bright light in the field of nineteenth-century Russian literature, making her name as an expert on the novels of Grigory Karkov and the diaries of his wife, the long-suffering Masha Karkova. Jane is also wife to sweet, reasonable Billy and mother to lovable (if demanding) Maisie, roles she’s finding surprisingly challenging to juggle along with her ambitions. But when Jane uncovers evidence that Masha may have been more than muse and helpmeet to her famous husband, she seizes her ticket to ...

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Lady of the Snakes

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Overview

Jane Levitsky is a bright light in the field of nineteenth-century Russian literature, making her name as an expert on the novels of Grigory Karkov and the diaries of his wife, the long-suffering Masha Karkova. Jane is also wife to sweet, reasonable Billy and mother to lovable (if demanding) Maisie, roles she’s finding surprisingly challenging to juggle along with her ambitions. But when Jane uncovers evidence that Masha may have been more than muse and helpmeet to her famous husband, she seizes her ticket to academic superstardom. Little does she know that she has set in motion a chain of events that will come perilously close to unraveling both her marriage and her career. Lady of the Snakes will be instantly familiar—and instantly unforgettable—to anyone who has ever felt torn between two worlds.

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Editorial Reviews

Lisa Page
…Pastan's writing is fluid and frank, and her characters are luminescent. Many women will recognize this as a realistic portrayal of the rewards and the pitfalls of trying to have it all.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The woes of being a scholarly mom are highlighted in this highbrow chick lit entry from Pastan (This Side of Married). Jane Levitsky's research concerns Maria (Masha) Karkova, the fictional, gifted wife of the fictional philandering genius of 19th-century Russian literature, Grigory Karkov. Jane is in her first year of a tenure-track job at the competitive University of Wisconsin-Madison as she struggles to untangle the web of intrigue surrounding Masha and Grigory. Husband Billy has moved with her from California along with toddler daughter Maisie, but Jane doesn't have much time for either of them, a fact of which live-in nanny Felicia is well aware. Further, Jane's office is next door to the professor she has been hired to replace, the irascible but charming Otto Sigelman, who was responsible for bringing Karkov's literary works to light; though he's meant to be retired, Otto is still very much invested in the reputation of his literary hero, and Jane's researches may be a threat. Fast-paced, well-written and entertaining, Pastan's latest has a winning feminist twist and should turn up in more than a few faculty lounges. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Having it all-motherhood, a career, a loving husband, and good friends-is a goal for many women. That is certainly the case for Jane Levitsky. Working toward her Ph.D. in the field of 19th-century Russian literature, Jane is especially passionate about the novels of Grigory Karkov and the diaries of his wife, Masha. Even after giving birth to a daughter, Maisie, she can't imagine leaving the world of the Karkovs. But then Jane and her husband relocate to Madison, WI, for her first academic post, and her dream world begins to crumble. Jane uncovers information about Masha that she believes could change how the world views Grigory's work. As she hunts down the literary clues to verify her hunch, her home life is torn asunder. Pastan (This Side of Married) has crafted an interesting take on modern life and women who try to have it all. She intersperses her narrative with excerpts detailing the lives of women in 19th-century Russia, creating a juxtaposition of cultural mores between the past and the present. Recommended for most public libraries.
—Robin Nesbitt

Kirkus Reviews
A literary historian feels drawn to a 19th-century wife and mother who sacrificed all for her man. A driven academic, Jane Levitsky loves her infant daughter Maisie and husband Billy, but most of her intellectual and emotional energy flows toward her research into the 19th-century Russian novelist Grigory Karkov and his wife Masha. Even during childbirth, Jane's thoughts drift to Masha, whose diaries fascinate Jane as much as Karkov's novels. Jane gets a prestigious assistant professorship at the University of Wisconsin, where the eminent Karkov scholar Otto Sigelman has just retired. Increasingly obsessed with her research and chafing at her domestic responsibilities, Jane hires a graduate student she is advising to be Maisie's live-in babysitter. Meanwhile, Sigelman, who still comes regularly to his office next to Jane's, disparages her emphasis on Masha's importance as Karkov's muse, but Jane begins to suspect Grigory may have lifted entire diary entries from his wife. On a trip to Chicago's Newberry Library, Jane finds a tantalizing letter from Masha that may shed new light on her role in Karkov's writing. But before Jane can thoroughly digest the letter, Billy calls to say Maisie is in the hospital. Jane must abort her trip, and by the time she gets back to Chicago, the letter has disappeared. Sigelman has stolen it. She steals it back. She also discovers that taken-for-granted Billy has slept with the babysitter. He moves out. She tracks down Karkov's last descendent, who gives her a startling manuscript: Before her death, Masha wrote a novel Grigory claimed as his own with her blessing. Jane realizes her own life is out of balance. In an improbably happy ending, Jane reconcileswith Billy, has a second child and begins her book on Masha. Pastan (This Side of Married, 2004) is strong on domestic despair, but the story of the woman who lets a man take the credit for her artistic achievement never comes to life.
Entertainment Weekly
"Can a woman have both a fulfilling career and a storybook family life? ... If you want to see the dilemma smartly dramatized in the experience of an appealing, intelligent heroine, read Rachel Pastan's crisp novel, Lady of the Snakes."
The Washington Post
"Pastan's writing is fluid and frank, and her characters are luminescent."
The Philadelphia Enquirer
"Pastan has an assured, deft and lovely voice ... Pastan admirably tackles the challenge of writing in both contemporary voices and the voices of two 19th-century Russians."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THIS SIDE OF MARRIED

"In this delightful novel, the mating habits of the subspecies we might call Very Intelligent Women are examined by a writer whose eye is sharp, whose wit is keen, and whose heart is open to the possibilities that love offers."—Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier

"A loving homage to the spirit of Jane Austen."—The Boston Globe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156035057
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/18/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,421,087
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel Pastan is the author of This Side of Married. Her short fiction has earned a number of awards, including a PEN Syndicated Fiction Prize. She lives with her family in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and teaches at Swarthmore College and the Bennington Writing Seminars.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Good Book for Working Wives/Mothers

    The novel is well written and I liked the way the author compared the main character's life as a wife and mother to the other women she knew as well as the woman whose life she was studying academically.

    The plot made me want to read on and the outcome was satisfying though fairly predictable.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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