Enchantments

Enchantments

by Kathryn Harrison

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812973778
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/26/2013
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Kathryn Harrison has written the novels Thicker Than Water, Exposure, Poison, The Binding Chair, The Seal Wife, and Envy. Her autobiographical work includes The Kiss, Seeking Rapture, The Road to Santiago, and The Mother Knot. She has also written a biography, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and, most recently, a book of true crime, While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their three children.

Read an Excerpt

The Hole in the Ice

Behold: in the beginning there was everything, just as there is now. The giant slap of a thunderclap and, bang, it's raining talking snakes.

A greater light to rule the day, a lesser light to rule the night, swarming water and restless air. A man goes down on two knees, a woman opens her thighs, and both hold their breath to listen. Imagining God's footsteps could be heard in the cool of the day. But God walks silently along the bank of the muddy river that flows out of the Garden, the river that divides and becomes many: Usa, Kolva, Yug, Onega. Narva, Obsha, Luga, Okhta. Volycha, Sestra, Uver, Oyat. Volga, Kama, Neva, Ob.

From the windows of the house that was my childhood home, I heard a river running. The Tura hurried past our village to join the Tobol, and the Tobol joined the Irtysh, and the Irtysh joined the Ob, and the Great Ob carried our cries and emptied them into the Kara Sea, which, being frozen, preserved them like flies in amber.

"Go on," Alyosha said whenever I fell silent. "Please, Masha, I like to hear your voice."

And I did; I told him about my father, about me, about Siberia. I told him stories my father told us when we were children. I did whatever I could to distract him.



The day they pulled Father's body out from under the ice, the first day of the new year, 1917, my sister, Varya, and I became wards of Tsar Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov and were moved, under imperial guard, from the apartment at 64 Gorokhovaya Street to the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, the royal family's private village outside the capital. Eighteen years old, I hardly felt I needed a new set of parents, even if they were a tsar and tsarina. But every week brought more strikes and increasing violence to St. Petersburg. Revolution, anarchy, marshal law: we didn't know what to dread, only that we were accelerating-hurtling-toward it, whatever it was. And, as the tsar's officers pointed out, having summoned Varya and me from our beds before dawn, banging at the door with the butts of their rifles, anyone with a name as inflammatory as Rasputin would be an idiot to try to leave St. Petersburg unaided and without protection. As long as the Romanovs remained in power, they represented our only possibility of escaping Russia before it was too late to get out.

But first: my father. For without Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, the end of the Romanovs is no different from that of the Hapsburgs or the Ottomans or any other of the great dynasties that collapsed at the beginning of the century.

Word traveled quickly, more quickly than it would had any other man's body been dragged from the river. After I signed a paper confirming that the deceased was indeed my father, missing by then for three days, the police escort was to return Varya and me to Gorokhovaya Street to gather our clothes and what few things we cared to keep. But before we could climb back into the sledge it was surrounded by a mob. A crowd of people had come running to where we'd stood minutes before, on the frozen river. They came from their homes with bowls and jugs and cast-iron kettles-anything that could hold water. Some ran pouring wine and vodka, even perfume, into the gutters as they hurried to the Neva to fill their newly emptied bottles. I saw a samovar so big it required three men to carry it, and I saw an old woman lugging a chamber pot. Now, that would have made Father laugh until he hooted and howled and dried his eyes with the heels of his hands-the idea of an old crone ladling his ghost into her chamber pot.

The crowd surged onto the river like a wave and swept all the officials away from the hole in the ice, the one out of which the police had dragged my father, beaten and bloodied, his right hand raised as if making the sign of the cross. People thronged the hole. They fell on their knees, praying and weeping. The common people, the people my father loved, all along they understood what the intelligentsia were too blind to see. They wanted the water that touched my father as he was dying, the water into which his soul had passed, through which it had swum.

Thousands of people, tens of thousands-the officials lost count as they continued to arrive-came to the Neva that day and the next and the one after that. They came and they came and they wouldn't stop coming, from all parts of the city and from the outlying towns and provinces. They came over the Urals, from Siberia. Nothing could stop them, not blizzards, not cavalry soldiers. Squadrons of Cossacks on horseback took aim and fired into the crowds, and their nervous mounts reared up and came down plunging, their shoes striking sparks from the paving stones, pale pricks in the freezing gloom.

For all the horses I'd ridden in my life, I'd never seen any as spirited as these. Towering black giants, not one of them less than twenty hands high, they weren't shying at the noise and chaos-no, that was what they wanted, an orgy of movement and sound. The dark luster of each animal's coat; the volatile quiver of its flesh as it responded to its rider's intent, not to his hands, which were busy with a firearm, but to his will, which commanded the horse's body as if it were his own; the nostrils flared wide at the smell of gunpowder; the shrill whinnying and the sharp gleam of each hoof: in an instant, the sight and sound and smell of them had, like a whetted blade, pared away the rind of shock that left me, in the wake of my father's disappearance, insensible to every feeling.

I watched, struck still with wonder, as the air around the horses changed color, like iron held over a flame, stealing its heat. The officer who had his gloved fingers wrapped tightly around the top of my arm gave it a shake, as if to dispel what he must have assumed was my fear. But all it was was my succumbing to them, allowing their desire to possess me to the point that I wanted it too-the crumple and yield of bodies under hooves. Then the clamor around me ceased, all the clatter and cries and sharp cracks converged into words only I could hear, and my father's voice spoke my name. Masha, he said, be comforted, and though I wasn't faint, I fell back so the officer had to support my weight. At last something had caught and cut me, made me gasp. Until that moment, I was afraid I'd lost not only my father but myself as well.

The crowd thinned, eventually it did, but not before opportunists had set up shop along the riverbank, selling empty jars and bottles to anyone who hadn't brought one, as well as hawking bread, cheese, pomegranates, kvass and vodka by the glass, cider dipped from a pot hanging over a fire. Day and night, pilgrims stepped around and over stiffening corpses as they walked past the armed soldiers and onto the river, the gray ice of its surface slick with freezing fresh blood. They slipped and scrambled and pushed one another aside to reach the hole in the ice, because the water my father touched he made powerful. For the rest of that terrible winter, the last of the Romanovs' rule, St. Petersburg shuddered under one riot after another, and her citizens' blood remained on the ice under the Petrovsky Bridge.

At noon one February day, nearly two months after my father was murdered, I returned to that bridge and stared at the stain below. I'd come back to the city to sign our furniture over to an auctioneer, so the apartment could be rented. "We could chop up his bed into splinters and sell them as relics," Varya said as I was leaving on my errand, and I gave her a look. For all I knew, she might have been serious, but I, not Varya, was the one responsible for settling my father's estate, what little there was of it.

How, after cyanide had failed, and bullets as well, after someone had broken his poor head with a brick or a cudgel, had Father's assassins at last succeeded in killing him? They dropped him from where I was standing, perhaps. Dropped him over the guardrail and watched as the force of his body's impact shattered the river's frozen surface, gravity, which holds planets and moons and even the golden sun in its thrall, no longer innocent but an accessory to murder. Or they brought axes. They walked onto the river, bold as brass, dragging Father behind them, his hands and feet bound. Was he conscious? Did he have to watch his murderers hack at the ice to open a door to his drowning? The ringleader was a man he'd mistaken for a friend. Invited to his home, Father had come willingly and drunk the poison he was served.

The Petrovsky Bridge was bewitched, people began to say, and they avoided its narrow pedestrian walkway whenever possible, certainly at night, when traffic subsided and moans rose up from under its span. There must be a natural explanation for water making such noises as it flows beneath a frozen surface, but no one was interested in natural explanations, not that winter. And there were more curious phenomena, impossible to account for. In the attempt to wash the blood away, to remove the unwanted reminder of my dead father's continued hold over his disciples, cauldron after cauldron of boiling water had been poured over the frozen blood. Tinder was collected, saturated in gasoline, and set to burn on the ice. But the stain refused to fade. As if to accuse the assassins, it darkened and spread, and even reasonable people grew to fear a place where a holy man had been martyred.

Looking down from the bridge, I could see where blood had pooled and feet had tramped and bodies been dragged through the congealing red slick of it, each boot print and smear recorded on the river's surface. The hole in the ice never froze back over that winter. Too many people visited the spot, refilled their bottles from its bottomless font, rinsed their crucifixes, and kneeled to pray. The same pilgrims, some of them, left crosses and candles. The wind blew, it whistled and shrieked, but it knew to leave the crosses standing, the candles' flames burning, and the soup in its bowl. Someone had remembered Father's favorite meal and brought him a deep dish of thick cod soup, which steamed day and night through one blizzard after another, surrounded by a ring of water where it had melted the ice. Others brought boots, a gift traditionally presented to an itinerant healer, and there was a cask of Madeira, bottles of kvass, too many ikons to count, a heaped tangle of prayer cords, and silk stoles, such as priests wear, in gold, purple, red, in every color. Prayers, quite a lot of these, copied onto paper and, if the petitioner lacked the requisite faith, held down with rocks. But the wind let them be, rocks or no rocks. Crutches and canes and unraveled bandages, all testifying that, dead as he was, Father Grigory continued to heal those who came to him. No thief was fool enough to take any of the gifts his petitioners left, not even something as valuable as a pair of stout boots.

If only Father had remained that humble man, walking from one town to the next, he might have avoided so early a death. Forty-seven. With a constitution like his he should have lived to be a hundred.

A Red Ribbon

The journey by train from St. Petersburg to Tsarskoe Selo, sixteen miles to the south, wasn't nearly long enough for me to gather my wits. It was, at least, a slow sixteen miles, as the track had to be cleared of snow every day, several times a day, in midwinter. I told myself, on boarding, that I would use the time to write my mother a letter saying what I could not, for reasons of economy, fit in a telegram. But I never even opened my satchel to find pen and paper. Once I'd settled myself in one of the imperial train's velvet-upholstered seats, I sank immediately into a haze that left me balanced like a napping cat between unconsciousness and the hair-trigger alertness that allows it to spring out of sleep and onto a mouse. Scenery unfurled, splendid and sparkling, the last of the slanting midwinter sunlight flaring off mirrors it found in the ice. Varya, two years younger than I, slept sideways in her red velvet seat, her legs tucked under her and her hands caught between her cheek and the back of her seat in an attitude of prayer. Unbound, her dark hair fell around her shoulders like a cloak. Twice the train slowed, stopped, and, after whatever obstruction had blocked our way was cleared from the tracks, started up again.

It was dusk when we reached Tsarskoe Selo. A detail of cavalry officers greeted us at the station, and once Varya and I had disembarked, holding tight to our bags in defiance of a footman's attempt to carry them, the mounted police escorted us to a carriage bearing the gold imperial crest. Flanked on either side by a moving wall of horses and men, for a moment I felt my sister and I had been arrested rather than adopted, and I hesitated before climbing into the conveyance.

"What is it?" Varya whispered as she sat next to me.

"Nothing," I said. "It isn't anything." As the carriage started rolling, we each slid to one side of the seat, looking out the window at what we'd last seen in late summer, when it was lushly green rather than white. The sun had set, the moon was rising. The carriage lamps turned everything they touched pale yellow, and behind every yellow thing lay its purple shadow. As we approached the Alexander Palace, I saw that only the imperial family's private wing was illuminated-lit from top to bottom. From a distance it looked like a lantern left standing in the snow. But then it grew suddenly big, and we stepped out of the carriage and into a world we'd visited infrequently, and never without our father. Apart from Father we had no connection to the tsar and his family.

The trip from the foyer to the suite of bedrooms (to which a butler, housekeeper, and finally a chambermaid delivered us) involved a surprising number of double doors. Each set opened silently before us, obedient to its pair of liveried, white-gloved porters, and swung silently shut. With every threshold I crossed, with every set of doors that closed behind me, I felt that much more sleepy, as if walking ever deeper into a hypnotizing spell. By the time a lady-in-waiting had emptied our suitcases and hung up our clothes-I could not convince her, as I had the footman, that we could do for ourselves-I was on my back on my bed, asleep on the counterpane, my shoes still on my feet and my hands folded like a dead girl's over my heart.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“[A] splendid and surprising book....Kathryn Harrison has given us something enduring – the last romantic figure of the [Romanov] era, a whip-cracking circus girl who was once an intimate part of a dying empire.”
New York Times Book Review
 
“Part love story, part history, this novel is a tour de force....[told] in language that soars and sears.”
More
 
“A mesmerizing novel.”
O, The Oprah Magazine
 
“Kathryn Harrison triumphantly returns to her historical fiction roots with Enchantments, the sweeping (and wholly imagined) story of love between two unlikely allies....Harrison takes a particular moment in time and brings it to stunning life....re-imagining history—and a love story—in a completely new way.”
Bookpage
 
“A surreal tale fueled by a legendarily randy real-life healer and his lion-taming daughter....A scrupulously researched retelling of the fiery end of Russia….Most of all, Enchantments is about the irreducible mysteries of human motivation.”
Elle

"A sumptuous, atmospheric account of the last days of the Romanovs from the perspective of Rasputin’s daughter, Enchantments animates a kaleidoscopic breadth of historical detail with the sensuous, transporting prose that is Kathryn Harrison’s trademark."
—JENNIFER EGAN, author of A Visit From the Goon Squad

“Ask yourself who, in all the world, would be the best novelist to imagine being Rasputin’s daughter. Kathryn Harrison makes the answer obvious. Her Enchantments is a stupendous work of historical imagination.”
—PETER CAREY, author of Parrot and Olivier in America
 
“Kathryn Harrison locates within the crevices of history moments of poetry and passion that electrify the reader. In Enchantments, Ms. Harrison takes us on a magic carpet ride to Russia one hundred years ago, and with perfect grace, impeccable style, and great narrative flair, she gives us a whole wounded world that is for the course of this utterly compelling novel as real as our own lives. Actually: more.”
—SCOTT SPENCER, author of Man in the Woods and Endless Love
 
Enchantments is wonderful: fascinating, informative, historically persuasive, and full of sympathy and tenderness for its endearing characters. This is Kathryn Harrison at her lyrical best.”
—RON HANSEN, author of A Wild Surge of Guilty Passion 

"[A] bewitching historical novel about the infamous demise of a legendary dynasty....Harrison sets historic facts like jewels in this intricately fashioned work of exalted empathy and imagination, a literary Fabergé egg....[A] dazzling return to historical fiction”
Booklist

Reading Group Guide

1. Enchantments opens in 1917 St. Petersburg, with the body of “Mad Monk” Grigory Rasputin being pulled from the Neva River—a factually accurate event. But Harrison writes from the perspective of Rasputin’s daughter, Masha, weaving fact and fiction together throughout the novel. Discuss the ways in which Harrison plays with fact and fiction in Enchantments, and to what effect.
 
2. During one of their first meetings, Masha and Alyosha talk about how his mother worries endlessly about his health. Alyosha tells Masha that Tsarina Alexandra believes in “the grace of God” while he believes in history. (page 24) How does the tsarina’s faith in God influence her? How does Alyosha’s faith in history influence him?
 
3. Masha and Alyosha create a fantasy world while under house arrest at Tsarskoe Selo. Of all the stories they tell each other and the histories they share, what passages stand out to you? Why?
 
4. Masha and Varya have a complicated relationship in Enchantments. Varya tells little white lies to protect herself, while Masha believes in the power of truth.  Masha tells Varya, “There are ways other than lying to protect oneself,” and Varya says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. And neither do you.” (page 34) Discuss how truth and lies play into the novel. Does Masha have a point? Does Varya?
 
5. Harrison’s novel emphasizes the power of storytelling—through Rasputin and Masha’s relationship before his death, Masha and Alyosha’s interactions, and Alyosha’s later relations with Katya. Why do you think sharing stories—both real and imagined—hold so much power?
 
6. Masha struggles with Alyosha’s accident throughout the novel, wondering if he meant to hurt himself to distract his parents—and others at Tsarskoe Selo—from their plight. Alyosha tells Masha he didn’t mean to hurt himself, but she has trouble believing him. What do you think really happened?
 
7. As Masha and Alyosha tell their own versions of their family histories, they imagine how things might have turned out differently had their ancestors made different choices—if they had married other people, or made alternate political decisions, etc. How does the concept of fate unfold in the novel? What about the power of choice?
 
8. The devil and his entourage of demons, the Virgin, the Holy Spirit, a host of saints, and 630 Jesuses all appear in Enchantments.  Discuss these religious apparitions and what they mean to and for the characters.
 
9. Alyosha and Masha are drawn to each other despite Alyosha’s condition, their age difference, and their unique predicament.  Yet when they first kiss, Masha is so worried about hurting Alyosha that she can’t allow herself to enter the moment. Alyosha says, “It’s the only thing that does matter, whether or not you liked it.” Masha says, “There are other things to think about.” (page 155) What does Masha mean? How does her perspective affect their relationship?
 
10. According to the novel (and some historical reports), Rasputin’s death was widely predicted. Of her father and his unfortunate death, Masha reflects: “Once he’d met a man, he couldn’t imagine that man as a murderer, much less his murderer.” (page 201) Discuss this quote—in the context of both Rasputin’s death and more generally in the novel.  
 
11. Masha and Alyosha’s relationship is cut short when she and her sister are abruptly set free from Tsarskoe Selo. Masha’s life takes many interesting turns after she leaves Alyosha: she gets married and is then widowed, moves from Paris to Vienna to America, joins the circus and is herself gravely injured. Discuss Masha’s life after the Romanovs. What did you find most surprising? Engaging?
 
12. Masha is afraid her father’s legacy will prevent her from getting her working papers in Paris, but in fact the Rasputin name helps her. She reflects: “The sole thing of value I possessed was my father’s history [and] his name.” (page 272) Is this true? If so, in what ways?
 
13. At the end of the novel, Masha dreams she is with the Romanov girls again. They are grown women, very much alive, and they want to show her a Faberge egg she has seen before.  “But I know what’s inside,” Masha says. “I don’t need to see it again.”  The girls all laugh and Tatiana says, “Of course you don’t know what’s inside! You can’t know. No one can. It’s never the same twice.” (pages 309–10) Discuss the meaning of this conversation in the context of the novel.

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Enchantments: A Novel 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enchantments is an excellent book. From the perspective of Rasputin's daughter, one gets an excellent glimpse of the last days of the last Russian Czar, Nicholas and his family. The writer says true to history while coloring the characters as interesting, engaging and true to life. If you have any interest in the back drop to Russian communism, I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book- recounting the final days of the Romanov Empire, beautifully written like a fairy tale for adults. The story is told by the surviving daughter of Rasputin, and explores her romantic relationship with the tsarevich, Alexander. It is both historic and magical, packed with wonderful details of this amazing time.
AngieJG More than 1 year ago
I have been looking forward to the release of this book for a while. I hate to say it, but I could not even finish it (made it to about page 160). I finish everything, for the record. I found this book very hard to follow. The conversation between Masha and Alyosha was boring,and their relationship odd. Some of the history is accurate, but the main story line with Masha is not. I found myself fact checking to see if some of the stories told had any truth. I felt the book was all over the place. I gave it one star, because it inspired me to research more about the enigmatic life of Rasputin.
bostonbibliophile on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Couldn't really get into this tale of Rasputin's daughter. The tone was kind of florid and I found it dull. I like books about Russia and I was hoping this would be a good fit but it just didn't work for me.
wagner.sarah35 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I just could not bring myself to like this novel very much. While I initially looked forward to the tale of the Romanov family told through the eyes of Rasputin's daughter, this novel failed to live up to expectations. Fragmented and nonlinear, much of the novel involved the stories told by Matryona Rasputin to Alexei Romanov, the hemophiliac tsarevich. Despite the novel's faults, what really spoiled the story for me was the attraction between the thirteen-year-old Alexei and the eighteen-year-old Matryona. I found the attraction between these characters unrealistic and it nearly made me stop reading the book.
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I desperately wanted to love this book. The cover, the Romanov's, the tragedy of Russia during this time period - it should all add up to be heart-wrenchingly beautiful.. but it was lacking a bit for me.There's no doubt that Kathryn Harrison is a writer who commands attention - she had to have been otherwise I think I may have put the book down about halfway through. Instead, I persevered, muddling my way through fragments of stories until I reached the end. I think what it boiled down to was there were too many shifts, shifts of perspective/stories/time periods. I understand what Harrison was attempting to do, and give her high marks for taking on such a complicated subject, but I felt as if I was being stretched back and forth repeatedly while reading Enchantments until I was just wrung tight, worn out, and exhausted by merely reading the book.I've read another book about Rasputin's daughter, one by Robert Alexander, and the story was completely different - so I appreciated the perspective put forth in this book (did you know Rasputin's daughter joined a circus? I had no idea!). I think if you are a fan of Russian history, and have a love for stories about the Romanov's, this is a book that will interest you - but I recommend it with a warning: just be prepared to feel like a bit of a patchwork quilt has been read.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Oh how I loved this book. It was a perfect opportunity to put he stress of the last few weeks aside and to delve into great historical fiction.Told from the perspective of Rasputin's daughter Masha, the reader learns a softer side of Rasputin. Known as the Mad Monk with a libido, a dirty peasant who helped topple the Romanov dynasty, and a starets who influenced Nicholas and Alexandra in their quest to help Alosha their hemophiliac son, Masha paints a broader picture of Rasputin.In this novel we learn that he had three legitimate children, one simple minded, one manipulative, and another compassionate and strong.In this novel, when Rasputin is killed two of his daughters become wards of the Romanovs. Masha becomes the friend of Alosha and as their relationship unfolds, we are privy to the every day lives of the royal family.As the dynasty collapses and Alosha becomes increasingly bed ridden, there is a wonderfully written insight into the lush life filled with palaces, yachts and Fabrege eggs contrasted with the degradation suffered at the hands of the Bolsheviks.Of interest is the fact that in real life, Masha escaped Russia, joined a circus and moved to the United States.The beauty of historical fiction is that it opens doors to research truth from fiction. While Masha visited the royal palace with her father, she did not live with the Romanovs after her father died.
Gwnfkt12 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
The name Rasputin has this stigma that is completely unavoidable in its mysterious yet intriguingly dangerous history. Kathryn Harrison's novel, Enchantments, spins an enchanted web of tales about what life might have been like for the family of this famous ¿mad monk¿ before and after his death through the eyes of his daughter as she relates his story to the young tsarevich Alexander. After nearly a century of being seen as evil, Rasputin is finally here being depicted as a family man, albeit strange and unorthodox. Masha, his daughter, tells a version of things that mixes up the common perception of those last days of the Russian royal family¿s existence and the possible optimism of the Tsar and his children. It paints a lovely and childlike portrait of murder through the eyes of a jaded and mature young girl in a clever story about one of Russia¿s greatest legends. The novel is made up of tales from the past, somewhat historical and somewhat magical, including how Nicholai II and Alexandra Fyodorovna (the Romanovs) came together, how Rasputin claims to have come into his mysterious abilities, as well as the historical side of how the Romanov dynasty came to an end. It shows the family dynamic and the full influence of Rasputin, though one should be careful not to read too much into this - it is after all only speculation and a child's tale of fiction.This is everyone¿s favorite mystery¿ told from an unexpected and intensely intimate perspective. A great read for anyone interested in the end of the Romanovs and the mystery surrounding Rasputin.
craso on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Grigory Rasputin has been found dead in a frozen river. His daughters, Masha and Varya, are sent to the tsar's palace to live as wards in the Romanov family. The tsarina believes that Masha has her fathers healing abilities and asks her to stay at her sons bedside when he is ill. Aloysha, the family nickname for the young Hemophiliac, and Masha become close friends as she weaves tales about their families history to help take his mind of the pain of his affliction.Masha is the narrator of the story. She jumps in time as she tells the history of the Russian Bolshevik revolution. We learn about Rasputin's life before he goes the St. Petersburg as well as how Nickolas and Alexandra met, fell in love, and started there family. We also learn about what happens to Masha after the death of the Romanovs.I enjoyed this novel very much. The story of the death of the Russia royal family has fascinated me for years. I researched some of the history on line and the author has taken some literary license, but not much. My only problem with the novel is that the storyline about an infatuation between Aloysha and Masha wasn't really needed. Other than that, I found the novel engaging and I recommend it to anyone interested in Romanov tragedy
Travis1259 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I was thrilled to receive this ER book. As I have reported before I have a passion for novels about Russia. And, I was surprised to find out this one talks about the fall of the Romanovs, Rasputin, his daughter Masha and her relationship with the Tsarevich. Most curious and true, after the revolution she ends up a circus performer first riding trick horses and then taming circus wild animals for audiences across America.Lots of detail and new information. So, what could go wrong? The story jumps around too much. It needs a more direct structured approach. We learn a little about a lot of characters, but never enough. Unfortunately the book never rose to the heights I imagined. While other books about Russia have done a better job in a more straight forward manner. Still, I must admit the idea of Rasputin's daughter as a wild animal trainer in America still tickles my fancy.
yankeesfan1 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book focuses primarily on Maria Rasputin, daughter of the infamous Grigori Rasputin. It opens with his murder and his daughters being taken in by the Romanov's as wards. The book primarily focuses on the relationship between Maria Rasputin and the Tsarevich Alexei, but also goes into some of Grigori Rasputin's background, and Maria's life after escaping Russia. The portions dealing with the Romanovs were by far the more interesting sections for me to read. The novel has quick, short chapters which make it easy to read a little bit here and a little bit there. A good read, but not my favorite on the fall of the Romanovs.
Litfan on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Enchantments is the fictionalized account of the time following the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas and the subsequent imprisonment of his family. It is narrated by Masha ,the eldest daughter of Rasputin. Masha did not, in reality, go to Tsarskoe Selo under the guardianship of the Romanovs following her father¿s death. However, the author takes a bit of license with history and sends her to Tsarskoe Selo for the purpose of the story; those who prefer their historical fiction to be unfailingly accurate may take issue with this. Those who are comfortable with taking a bit of liberty with history, may see how Masha¿s being placed with the royal family allows a unique window into their world, after their fall, from an outsider¿s perspective. Masha is tasked, as was her father, with the care of young Alyosha, and although she does not have her father¿s gift for healing, she does have a gift for story. Russian folklore, and the history of Nicholas and Alexandra, are brought to life in the stories Masha tells the young prince Alyosha during their imprisonment together. The stories are larger than life, and clearly enhanced by Masha¿s imagination, but they provide comfort and distraction to Alyosha, who senses that the family will not survive. As the stories sustain Alyosha, they also show the reader a very human, endearing side of a legendary family. We are privy to the touchingly romantic courtship of Nicholas and Alexandra, the impact of Alyosha¿s illness on the family, and the mischievous games shared by family members (who would have thought a royal family made sport of tea tray racing?) The novel gets off to a somewhat slow start, but if you can hang in with it, the writing is beautiful and transports you into another world. From Rasputin¿s history, to the steppes of Siberia, to the inner workings of the Romanov family, its scope is wide, but fascinating. I found myself most drawn to the story of the Romanovs, and some of the later parts of the novel focusing solely on Masha felt a bit distracting. The execution of the family, and their experiences in the year leading up to the inevitable, are taken from the pages of history and brought to life as we get to know not just the royal family, but an everyday family, with all their quirks, tragedies, and love. It¿s quite moving, and I¿m glad I waited out the slow beginning because the payoff was worth it.
justabookreader on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Masha Rasputin, and her younger sister Varya, became the wards of deposed Tsar Nickolay Romanov in 1917 shortly after her father¿s mutilated body is pulled from the river. The daughter of Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin, known better as the Mad Monk Rasputin, she understands the only safe place for them is with the tsar and his family even though she would rather leave St. Petersburg to be with her mother back in Siberia. Masha and Varya leave for the imperial palace and soon find themselves under arrest with the royal family.Hoping that Masha has inherited some of her father¿s mythical healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks Masha to attend her son Alyosha, the tsarevich and next in line to carry on the Romanov dynasty. Sick since birth --- his hemophilia is unspoken of and he is never seen in public unless healthy --- Alyosha suffers from extreme loneliness and is burdened with the knowledge that he will die earlier than expected. Terrified of the slightest bump causing unseen, and unstoppable bleeding, the tsarina prays constantly for his health and will do anything she can to keep him safe, including bringing in Rasputin to heal him when necessary. While she never directly says it, she wants the same thing from Masha, who knows she cannot provide the same reassurance, or healing powers, the tsarina is looking for.What Masha can do is tell stories and she spends her days with Alyosha telling him about her family, every detail of her father¿s life, their home in Siberia, her love of horses, and they discuss what they would do if they were to escape. Alyosha knows their lives will end but doesn¿t speak of this to anyone but Masha who fears he may be correct but doesn¿t want to believe too strongly in his convictions. Their stories and time together become an escape, not only the loneliness they both suffer from, but from daily reminders of what little life holds for them at the moment.If you know anything about the Romonovs, it¿s a sad time for this once powerful family. The tsar no longer holds any power and the tsarina has lost herself in her religion spending her days praying for the safety of her son almost oblivious to the fact there is nothing left of their former life. The four Romanov daughters are not spoken of much but are mostly just background players filling out the tableau of characters. It¿s all about Masha and Alyosha and the stories she¿s telling him --- her own form of healing therapy. While she doesn¿t have the healing powers of her father, she can distract Alyosha and take him away from the horror that has become their lives.Each chapter in this book is a small story tied together by the people involved. You can¿t really think of this book as traditional with a beginning, middle, and end but if you take each chapter as a story of its own, it¿s an intriguing book. No, things won¿t tie up nice and neat but you will get the thread of story as if someone were telling you about their time with a dear friend and what they spoke about and did during their time together. It¿s also a very sweet love story of two teenagers who know they have no future together but spend each day trying to forget what they can¿t change. They¿re in an untenable situation but they manage to seek out the only the joy they can find.This book is aptly named. The story, while in no way linear, is a tale of love and hardship that spans years. Harrison doesn¿t ignore the ghost of death hanging over everyone but manages to make the situation one of hope and a life dreamed of outside of palace walls.
suballa on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Set during the fall of Tsar Nicholas II, Grigory Rasputin¿s daughter is asked to take over for her father in caring for Tsarevich Alexei. On New Year¿s Day, 1917, Grigory Rasputin¿s body was pulled from the icy Neva River. After poisoning, shooting, and taking an axe to Rasputin, his assassins finally had to resort to drowning him to finish the job. Afraid that without the ¿Mad Monk¿s¿ healing powers her son would succumb to his hemophilia, Tsarina Alexandra asks 18 year old Masha Rasputin to take over for her father. Alexandra believes Masha has inherited the gift of healing from her father but Masha is not so sure. Along with her younger sister, Masha is sent into internal exile with the royal family. Though she does not possess the power to heal, Masha does have the gift of storytelling. She uses her stories to distract Alexei from the pain of his injuries, and more importantly, from the cruel destiny that he knows awaits him. As we know the fate of the Romanov family, we also know there can be no happy ending to this story of love and loyalty. We can only feel the impact of their brutal annihilation more keenly. Beautifully written by Harrison who is no stranger to family dysfunction herself, this will appeal to anyone who likes historical fiction that doesn¿t pull any punches. I agree with other reviewers that the story does jump around quite a bit, but for me, it did not detract from the story. I
BrokenTeepee on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This tale of Russia at the point of revolution is written in magical prose. The background is the fall of the Romanovs but the forefront is the story of Rasputin's daughter, Masha. She and her sister were sent to live with the famous family after her father's body was found in the Neva River. Her father had foreseen his death and her future but he would only tell her so much of it.Masha is brought to the royal household in the hopes that she would be able to help the young tsarevich as Rasputin had. It was not known at the time but he had hemophilia. Masha does not have her father's abilities but she does have a way with words so she keeps him calm with stories; some real, some imagined. The book moves back and forth in time and some knowledge of the time period and the history of the Romanovs is helpful as you weave through the tale. The book is about Masha though, not the famous family and it was fascinating to follow the life of this woman I knew nothing about as she created a life outside of Russia after the revolution.Ms. Harrison has a way with writing that is most magical.
dizzyweasel on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Enchantments is a fictional (but based on true events) account of Masha, Rasputin's daughter, and the role she played in the last days of the Romanovs. After the death of her father, Masha is taken to live with the last Tsar's family as they are under house arrest. Through her, we get to know the good and the bad about Russia's royal family and the tribulations of their last year. Unable to heal through thought like her father, Masha does what she can for the hemophiliac Alexei - she tells tales like Scheherazade to distract him through his pain. And like the princess from The Arabian Nights, Masha tells her stories to stave off their inevitable death. The tales she tells to the young prince give us a rich story of her father, the Mad Monk, the dissolute Russian aristocracy, the love between the last Tsar and his wife Tatiana, and descriptions of St. Petersburg.Unlike some novelists, who might approach this kind of tale as a series of short stories cobbled together, Harrison makes her transitions smooth - the reader is unaware of the move between tales, and sections of Masha with Alexei are seamless and rich. Masha makes the royal family likable, pitiable. Her descriptions of her father humanize him, make him understandable, if not sympathetic. The sections following Masha's life after her time with the royal family are more abrupt, a bit rough. The chronology shifts back and forth between her future and Alexei's final days. I must say, I preferred Masha's account of Russia more than her future in Paris and America. Once she leaves the royal family, the tone of the novel shifts enough to make it feel as though one were reading another book altogether.The author fuses the sublime with the earthly quite effortlessly. It's as easy to see Rasputin conversing with the Virgin Mary in the woods as it is to see him bedding half of Russia's female aristocracy after his brushes with the divine. Masha's tales do not exclude the brutal or the sexual elements that would have been present - in short, she is not just telling fairy tales to her young prince. Her characterizations present all sides of various characters in her repertoire, and Harrison must be given credit for making all of these lofty and distant historical figures seem immediate and human. Their deaths were poignant, and I found myself hoping against history that some kind of deliverance would come to them.The only fault I have with this novel is its lack of teleology. Never while reading the novel did I feel like I were being taken on a journey with a fixed end. The stories that ran together so smoothly seemed without purpose. This may not bother other readers - perhaps I'm too goal-oriented with my fiction. If you're looking for a pleasant novel with lovely, descriptive prose to fill an evening, this may be what you're looking for. The scenes of Russia at the turn of the century are worth the read, but overall the book lacked that special something to really get me involved.
loralu on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book had a very interesting subject - the life of Rasputin's daugther and her times with the tsarevich and the rest of her life. In some ways, not being knowledgeable of this era, I wondered how much was fact and how much was fiction. The stories of both her early life, her life as an "aide" of sorts to Aloysha, and her later life were interesting. It seemed, however, like some of the stories were more out of place in the way they were presented in the book. Many authors use the "jump around" method of going from past to present, but some of the jumps in this book seemed haphazard. It also started to get a bit boring for me towards the end. We know the typical story, because it's history, so I almost felt as if it were just loose ends wrapping up.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I wanted to read The Enchantments because I've always liked Kathryn Harrison's work. Her cool, elegant prose combines with her approach to story makes her an interesting, if sometimes difficult, writer. I was curious about how she'd handle the Romanovs through the eyes of Rasputin's daughter. I admittedly know a lot more about the other side of the Russian Revolution so I was curious about the Tsar, his family, and the Rasputin family.If you're looking for straight historical fiction that sticks with the accepted facts and agreed upon story, this is not the book for you. Rather this is an exploration of history and fact filtered through the eyes of Masha (Rasputin's daughter) and Alyosha (the Tsar's hemophiliac son). More than anything it is a set of fairy tales that serve to impart history, but also to entertain and provide solace during the time that the Tsar's family was held until their execution (if you're on the left wing side of the Revolution) or assassination (if you're on the right wing side of things).Many things led up to the Russian Revolution - perhaps most of all the extreme difference between how those without lived, and how those with lived. In the United States of today it is valuable to understand this political dynamic and its potential consequences.The Enchantments is less concerned about the political and social context within which the Romanovs were removed from power (and from life) than it is with the personalities of the various Romanovs. The possibility that they might have avoided their fate had they been less interested in soldiering (Tsar Nicolai) and extreme religiosity (Tsarina Alexandra) and more concerned with the actual politics and the style of rule required for survival during the 20th century with all its revolutionary fervor. Through her stories Masha illustrates the character of the family - good, bad, and ugly - as she simultaneously allows us to watch a relationship between two young people thrown together in a terrible place not of their own choosing.Harrison is able to humanize characters that I have always thought of as self-indulgent, decadent, and completely disconnected from the harsh reality that their subjects faced daily. I still think the Romanovs are all of those things, but they were other things, too and by concentrating on them as individuals in a family I got a more nuanced sense of them.Harrison has written an evocative and subversive book about the power of story and the ways we can (and do) use it to change our lives. Her tale gives us a window into a well-known story from a unique point of view and this is the novel's great strength.
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Summary: 1917 was a turbulent year for Russia. Already deeply enmeshed in World War I, there were problems on the home front as well, as the seeds of revolution began to sprout. On New Year's Day, the body of the "Mad Monk" Rasputin, charismatic healer and confidante of the tsarina, was pulled from the icy river Neva. His daughters, according to his wishes, are placed under the protection of the Romanov royal family. Eighteen-year-old Masha, despite not being gifted with her father's powers, takes his place at the bedside of the young tsarevitch, Alyosha. The heir to the empire, Alyosha is frequently confined to bed with the effects of his hemophilia, and Masha must do what she can to ease his discomfort. She tells him stories, of her parents and his, but even the most enchanting fictions cannot hide the fact that the Romanovs are under house arrest by the Bolsheviks, and that Alyosha may not survive long enough to die from his disease.Review: I was originally interested in this book because I've read relatively little fiction set in Russia, and while I know the barest basics about the Russian Revolution, I was hoping to get the kind of fuller picture that historical fiction so often provides. And on that score, Enchantments half-succeeds. It does an excellent job bringing several key figures to life; Masha's stories are tinged with a heavy dose of magical realism, yet somehow still manage to make her father and the Romanovs feel like real people. Rasputin had a fascinating life, and the portrait of the royal family stoically awaiting what they know to be their end is heartbreaking.Where Enchantments didn't succeed as well as I'd hoped was in providing a larger context for the death of Rasputin and the Russian Revolution more generally. The book is narrated by Masha, so she can perhaps be forgiven for not always knowing the details of what was going on outside the palace walls, but as a reader new to the topic, I could have used a broader perspective.I also felt like the one place the characterization let me down was with Masha herself. She spends so much time telling stories about other people that I never really got to know who she was, in the absence of her famous relations. This was problematic, since a large part of the book seemed to want to be a love story between Masha and Alyosha. But since Masha was mostly a cipher to me, and Alyosha came across as kind of creepily sexually pushy, especially given his young age, I never really felt the romance, and that plotline ended (by the forcible separation of the leads) before it really had a chance to develop.Harrison's writing was lovely, lyrical and injecting just the right amount of magical realism into the proceedings to make it feel special without seeming overdone. I did wish for a more substantial author's note; Harrison does point out that Masha's ultimate fate (as a lion tamer for a circus traveling the United States) is real, but leaves it to the reader to figure out what other changes she'd made. Overall, it was an enjoyable read, and I like Harrison's style enough that I'd certainly pick up another of her books, but this one left me wanting something that dealt with the time period with a little more depth. 3.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: For fans of historical fiction, especially Russian history, this book is an enjoyable, if not necessarily an essential read.
bachaney on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Enchantments is the story of the last days of the Romanovs, told from the perspective of Masha, the daughter of the late Rasputin, and Aloysha, the young deposed tsar to be. To distract themselves while they are under house arrest, Masha and Aloysha begin trading stories--about the history of the Romanovs, the romance of Aloysha's parents, and the mystical life and death of Rasputin. As Masha and Aloysha tell more stories, they become closer and closer. Sadly, history is not kind to these young adults, but the novel explores how their relationship grows.I found that although the writing is good in Enchantments, I didn't enjoy the structure of the novel. The story jumps around a lot and about midway through the novel I found myself forgetting which narrative I was following and when I was listening to a story and when I was in the novel's "present". Usually flashbacks in novels don't bother me, but the total lack of a linear story really bothered me here. When I sat back and thought about all of the pieces of the novel and how they fit together I enjoyed the story as a whole, but the presentation really threw me off. I also found the characters in the present to be a bit flat, since they are all essentially waiting for their fate. I know the author likely assumed everyone knew what happened to her characters, but it still made the story less interesting to me as a reader. This novel may be worth checking out if you are a fan of the Romanovs.
TomKitten on LibraryThing 5 months ago
In a recent interview, the historian Paul Johnson said that he writes history in order to learn about it. I kept thinking about that statement as I was reading Kathryn Harrison's vivid and engaging new novel, Enchantments, for she must have had to do an enormous amount of research and take it all in to her bones in order to get this book to feel as right as it does. The framework of her story is a familiar one - the last days of Nicholas and Alexandra, their family and immediate circle. That circle included the daughters of the recently assassinated madman/holyman Rasputin, who could heal with one touch of his perpetually unwashed hands, whose sexual conquests were legion, despite his adamant disregard for personal hygiene. The Tsarina, convinced that the "Mad Monk"'s daughters must have inherited his healing powers, insists that they accompany the family to their country home where they are kept under house arrest as Russia descends into political chaos. The story is told from the clear-eyed perspective of the eighteen year old daughter Masha, who, unable to heal the hemophiliac young Tsarovich, can only sit with him and tell him fantastic stories, as the circle draws tighter and the inevitable end looms nearer. Historical fiction can be difficult to pull off, but like Peter Carey or David Mitchell or Hilary Mantel, Harrison here blends history with fiction so thoroughly that we eagerly buy the world she creates for us. Fact never overwhelms story, the story feels utterly rooted in an awful kind of reality. Dialogue, which is often the most difficult trick in the game to pull off, rings true. All of which is to say I loved this book. Don't miss it.
ntempest on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Kathryn Harrison's ENCHANTMENTS tells the story of Masha, the elder daughter of Rasputin, and her experiences following his assassination in 1917 Russia. Both Masha and her younger sister are taken in by Tsar Nicholas and his family, where Masha in particular is expected to take over her father's role as the helper and savior of the young Tsarovitch. Harrison depicts a fascinating world through Masha's eyes, showing readers Russia in the midst of a revolution that forever changed the outlook of the country, poised as it was between the old, traditional world and the start of a more modern one.What I found particularly intriguing about this book is the very real, personal voice Harrison gives to the circumstances. History conveys many stories, both harsh and sympathetic, about this final ruling family of Russia, and of Rasputin himself, who was looked upon as everything from a holy man to a crazed interloper. Harrison takes a far more objective look, despite addressing the history from the viewpoint of a participant. She also makes the period in history feel very real and recent; in many ways it seems similar to modern day struggles between the old ways and new technology.I did find that in some places the shifts between current happenings and Masha's flashbacks were a bit jarring, but that could easily be a case of layout issues--an additional space between paragraphs would clarify a great deal. Overall, the book was engrossing and beautifully written. Harrison's turns of phrase are lyrical and the imagery in vivid and compelling. A very worthwhile and enjoyable read.
JanaRose1 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
After the death of Masha's father, Rasputin, she is sent to live at the palace with the Tsar and his family. She develops a bond with Prince Alyosha, as she tells him stories and tends to his suffering. Overall, I found this book very hard to read. There was no cohesive time-line and the plot jumped back and forth in a hard to follow manner. It was difficult to really know the characters and I found it hard to become involved in their struggles and tribulations.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Harrison uses a creative narrative and situation to tell the story of the life and murder of Rasputin as well as the imprisonment and deaths of Nicholas and Alexandra and family. Reading about the tsarina's guilt and anguished pleas for the life and health of her only son shortly after his birth is a vision that will stay with me. Felt the book going back and forth in time and events served as a disconnect in the story and thought it would be easier if it was a linear read. It is however, a beautifully written rendering of the last days of the Russian monarchy and of the life and rise to power of the monk Rasputin.
alaskabookworm on LibraryThing 5 months ago
Russia, 1917. Mystic Grigory Rasputin, an intimate to the royal family, has been murdered. The country is on the verge of revolution. The historic reign of Tsarist Romanovs is on the cusp of annihilation. It is in this setting that Harrison begins her story, told from the perspective of Rasputin¿s daughter, Masha. In Harrison¿s imaginings, Masha and her sister, in the wake of their father¿s murder, become wards of the Romanovs, and gain an intimate glimpse into the beginnings of the revolution while under house arrest with the Romanov family. Masha develops a friendship with the hemophiliac heir to the Russian throne, Alexei (Alyosha) that gradually develops into an ill-fated romance. While under house arrest, Masha narrates a series of stories to the bedridden Alyosha, in which she takes stories of their lives and fantastically reimagines them, making them sparkle with life and magic. This, during a time when it appears the demise of the Romanovs is imminent. Structurally complex, the book jumps chronologically, alternating between reality and fantasy. Harrison never loses control of the narrative, and the changes of pace become welcome changes in the scenery of the story. Harrison manages to inform the reader of a great deal of Russian history while never straying from the thread of fictional narrative. Her story is a compelling initiation into Russian history. It may be this is a book that appeals more to those who know less of Russian history in the first couple decades of the twentieth century. History purists might take exception to the fictional narrative license. However, I liked this book a lot, and will recommend it to those folks who like historical fiction, and/or are interested in Russian history. It was a nice change of pace and a very palatable introduction to the Romanovs and Rasputin.