"A captivating tale in which Natalya Pushkin is vividly imagined. [A] sensitive and skillfully written novel... sure to enchant." - Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home
The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.
At the beguiling age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. At her first public ball during the Christmas of 1828, she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya is swept up in a courtship and then a marriage full of passion but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads Alexander to defend his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, he tragically succumbs to his injuries. Natalya finds herself reviled for her perceived role in his death. In her striking new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, Jennifer Laam helps bring Natalya’s side of the story to life with vivid imaginationthe compelling tale of her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court and that of her greatest love.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
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I didn't want to attend the dance master's ball that night. If my sisters hadn't insisted, I never would have met the greatest poet in Russia, and my life might have taken a different course altogether.
Admission to the ball cost five rubles each, and Mother had made a grand show of dispensing the needed coin. While my sisters spritzed one another with the lavender-scented perfume our aunt procured on a recent trip to France, I cast a longing look at the mahogany writing table, blemished with age, in the opposite corner of our sitting room. There I kept my leather-bound notebook, feather quill, and embossed inkwell atop red linen embroidered with curving black arabesques. Though always in need of a sturdy book to prop a broken leg in place, this table was my favorite spot in the house and certainly preferable to the bedroom I shared with my sisters. Over the winter holidays, I had reviewed my French translations and an essay on the history of Russian poetry. I wished to spend the evening engrossed in that work.
Instead, I was expected to make myself pretty and amicable for the benefit of strangers, gentlemen I would not even truly see. My vision compromised by shortsightedness, I could hope to gain no more than fuzzy impressions of their faces from a distance, and would need to wait until they drew near in order to determine whether or not they were handsome. Tonight, my spectacles remained safely encased in their fabric cover on the writing table. Mother might allow for a fashionably discreet lorgnette at the ballet, but the last time I tried to wear spectacles outside the house, she told me I looked like a man and threatened to grind the lenses under the heel of her boot.
Ekaterina and Azya pushed in front of me, leaned in closer to our looking glass, and pinched their cheeks to make them glow. Mother sat before the dying fire in the hearth, perched in her favorite armchair — generously proportioned rosewood with worn floral cushions frayed at the edges. The quivering shadows made her high cheekbones appear even more severe than usual. Though busy mending a pair of stockings, she caught me gazing at my writing table. I turned away quickly, as though I'd been caught staring at a clandestine lover like some swooning girl in a gothic romance.
Slowly, Mother set her yarn back in her wicker sewing basket and rose to her full height. Dressed in gloomy black from head to foot, with her hair pulled under an old bonnet, she towered over us. When she wasn't speaking, she appeared more a statue than a living being. She approached the looking glass where my sisters and I had gathered.
"I trust you will be on your best behavior." Mother reached out to adjust my cream-colored cambric gown, revealing more of my décolletage. I was sixteen, hardly a spinster, but the need for a husband had been made clear since I had my first monthly cycle three years earlier. "And I trust you will display every courtesy to the gentlemen present."
I caught Mother's judgmental eye in the mirror before I realized I'd been biting my lower lip, a habit I had tried and failed to break. I forced a smile.
"Natalya still looks grim as a constipated granny." Ekaterina's rectangular face had an honest, salt-of-the-earth quality that might have been appealing had she a more pleasant manner.
"This will cheer Natalya ... and attract an eligible gentleman!" Giggling, Azya waved a tiara crafted of faux gold in the air. Her merry pink face flushed with pride, she placed it over my hair, centering it on my forehead. Her wide-spaced, light brown eyes were tender as she worked. "Like Venus herself."
I moved closer to the looking glass, squinting to better see my reflection, the pale contours of my face and the glint of gold against my dark auburn hair, which had been pulled back into a loose bun with curls framing my face.
"Quite suitable," Mother said in her husky voice. "You should thank your sister for her generosity. She could have kept the bauble for herself."
"Or given it to me." I couldn't quite see Ekaterina's expression, but her tone sounded surly enough.
"Jealousy is hardly becoming," Mother warned my sister. "Now off with you."
We headed in a line to the foyer, where our pelisses hung neatly on hooks by the door. Outside, it was snowing, and I would have much preferred an overcoat, as men wore. We would freeze, but I supposed this small sacrifice well worth the charming picture we would create in our snug, fur-lined garments.
Our three brothers, ranging in age from thirteen to twenty, lined up by the door, pretending to be footmen. As we approached the gabled entranceway, their ruddy features took on garishly pompous expressions. The eldest, Dmitry, played the charade best, but then God had granted him a handsome face and blond hair, an anomaly in our family, and he did most everything best. Our middle brother, Ivan, was also well formed, though his pale forehead loomed too prominently even in the dull lamp light. Little Sergey, long since deemed the runt of the litter, had already gone plump, though sweet-faced enough if you could tolerate his habit of holding one hand to his mouth and blowing hard into it to imitate the sound of an old man passing wind. As I stepped around him, Sergey's eyes crossed and I stuck out my tongue. Unfortunately, while my sisters had remembered to lift their gowns above their ankles, I neglected to do so and stumbled over my own feet.
"You must be more careful, Natalya," Mother intoned. "And stop squinting or you'll be wrinkled before your time. All of you, take care you are home by midnight. You wouldn't want to upset your father."
Ekaterina and I exchanged looks. For all our disagreements, we united in our poor opinion of our father. How I wished Mother would stop talking about him as though he were still an active presence in our home. One of Ekaterina's supposed friends had made a catty remark about seeing my father stumble home from a tavern in the Arbat, vomiting on the street as the girl's family passed by on a sled. To Ekaterina's credit, she had lunged at the girl and I held her back. When one of our brothers got into a scuffle, Mother's anger was the raw material of legend and I could only imagine how she might react if one of her girls came home with a blackened eye.
Azya gave a nervous glance in our direction, her face clouded with worry. "We will, Mother."
"Your behavior in public is a reflection on our family, and your success in society an important step toward securing your futures. Be kind to the gentlemen. After all, one of them might wish to make you his wife."
Sergey sputtered at that. I tried to kick him, but he was out of reach.
Mother returned to her armchair. Her lazy brown tabby had sprawled on the faded Persian rug before the hearth, hind feet twitching in a dream. She bent down to stroke the cat's fat stomach and I considered the once proud animal's willingness to submit to such degradation. As terrified as I felt about going to this ball — and how much I dreaded being evaluated like fresh fruit at a market — staying here forever under Mother's thumb, soul slowly crushed, would be far worse.
"I shall expect a full report in the morning," Mother said. "Take advantage of this moment and your beauty. Make your family proud."
* * *
I've heard it said the Christmas season is a magical time in the countryside, with all manner of opportunity for fortune-telling and mischief with comely boys. Living in Moscow, I had not yet experienced such pleasures. Despite my reservations, I hoped the dance master's ball might mark a change in direction of what often felt like a dull and hopelessly domesticated life.
When my sisters and I entered the ballroom of the mansion, I remembered to hitch my dress to make it easier to walk across the smoothly polished floor. I tried to picture myself as a ballerina gracefully taking the stage, though I knew I'd never have made it as such without my spectacles. "Your face is your fortune, Natalya," Mother often told me. "That and your figure. Perhaps you have not been blessed with the ability to determine this for yourself, so trust me on the matter."
I focused on the exquisite surroundings nearest my line of sight, drawing in the woodland scent of pine boughs and holly mingled with the heavy aromas of melting wax, French perfume, and hair pomade. Gilt candelabras lined long side tables heaped with iced sherbets, jewel-toned sugar plums, and delicate Viennese pastries dolloped with frothy cream. A tingling sensation teased the back of my shoulders, and I felt alive with the possibilities of the night. I tapped the modest heels of my satin slippers to the lively tune of a mazurka. On the dance floor, underneath a banner emblazoned with the imperial double-headed eagle, gentlemen lifted their ladies from the floor and turned them with brisk and powerful steps.
All schoolgirls practiced this popular dance with one another, though I had once thought such lessons a waste of time. Now, I nervously eyed the row of men to the side of the floor, turning their heads this way and that, trying to look blasé as they evaluated potential partners, and felt grateful for the instruction. As we made our way farther inside, several heads swiveled. My face grew warm and yet I confess I enjoyed the attention.
Azya looped her arm around mine and stood taller so she could whisper in my ear. "The men are all dressed in elegant brocade evening coats and have the shapeliest legs in their breeches. The women's dresses are wonderful confections as well, so colorful they make us seem like simple country maids." She covered her mouth as she emitted a nervous snicker. "We must convince Mother to spend more on our gowns. Oh, but the mansion is decorated so beautifully for Christmas, Natalya! Can you see the tree on the other end of the ballroom?"
I squinted and made out a green pine. Glowing candles in copper holders were fastened to its branches, along with dangling silver trinkets, beaded garlands, and fragile glass balls.
"A tree like the Protestants have in the Prussian lands?" Ekaterina's head bobbed in distress. "Inappropriate for an Orthodox celebration, if you ask me."
"Oh hush," I told her, irritated. "Since when do you care what Protestants do in their lands? I think the tree looks pretty."
Ekaterina's cheeks flushed pink. Too pink. I wondered if she hadn't snuck some rouge from an apothecary.
"And you need to stop acting like her crutch." Ekaterina turned to Azya. "What would Mother say if she heard you whispering to Natalya like some foreign trickster begging for kopeks? Do you want everyone to know our sister is blind as a mole?"
"I only want her to enjoy the night," Azya whispered fiercely.
"She'll enjoy it." Ekaterina jutted her prominent chin at the tiara. "With that bauble on her head, the gentlemen will mistake her for some sort of countess. And what does that make us? Her daft ladies-in-waiting?"
"Still preoccupied with the tiara?" I hissed, touching the gold circlet on my forehead. Even I had seen in the looking glass that it flattered my hair, whereas it would have been lost in Ekaterina's mousy mess of curls. "How would you like it if I threw it at you?"
"You couldn't hit me if you tried, you blind bat."
"I can see well enough to hit your giant jaw."
"You try throwing that thing at me and I'll pop you in the nose."
"Ladies, I trust you are all behaving? Your mother asked me to serve as your chaperone and I do want to be able to tell her how admirably you conducted yourselves this evening."
At the sound of the refined female voice, we pivoted in unison and curtsied. Mother's half-sister and Ekaterina's namesake, Aunt Katya, was nearing fifty years of age, but her features retained a softness our mother's lacked. Her hair was still jet black and her lips so full and rosy that a gentleman young enough to be her son stopped to give her a bold wink. Over the years, Aunt Katya's looks had served her well; she had a seemingly endless supply of dramatic gowns and expensive jewels to show for her success at court and wore a peacock-blue ball gown with puffed sleeves and richly embroidered gold floral designs at the hem of her full skirt.
"Now, enough of that. Mind your manners." Aunt Katya tapped the base of her lace-and-gauze fan gently against Azya's bare shoulder, thin and vulnerable in her slim gown. My sister winced. "I'm sure the gentlemen want the favor of seeing your lovely faces. No kitten fights."
Azya and Ekaterina quickly righted themselves and searched the room for potential dance partners. I wished I could convince Azya to walk with me to the tree. I wanted to see the decorations up close and gave not one whit if the tradition came from the Protestants. Even without my spectacles, I could tell the tree was divine.
Aunt Katya must have caught my wistful gaze, because she inclined her head toward mine, so close I could smell the fresh powder on her face and the rosewater she dabbed behind her ears. "I don't wish to alarm you, niece, but I spot a gentleman making an advance. I expect you will attend to him with both the dignity and generosity your mother might expect."
I opened my mouth and then shut it abruptly, unsure how to respond to my aunt. With as much grace as I could manage, I turned.
A heavyset man with a mop of thick hair and side whiskers approached. His movements had a clumsy charm about them, like a trained circus bear. He would likely make an enjoyable dance partner, though he was a grown man in his early forties, at least, and I doubted my conversation sufficiently sophisticated to hold his attention. Besides, when I looked at him my heart did not skip a beat, flutter, jump in my chest, nor come to a standstill ... all of which were reactions I had read in novels when the heroine met the man she was meant to marry. If this gentleman was somehow destined to be my first romantic suitor, I felt disappointed at my heart's lack of response.
"Mademoiselle," he said with a gallant if inelegantly executed bow. "We haven't formally met. My name is Fyodor Tolstoy. I have the honor of friendship with your older brothers, Ivan and Dmitry. They said their sisters might attend. Based on your brothers' description, I am guessing you are 'little' Natalya."
"Not quite so little anymore, I suppose." I was nearly as tall as this Tolstoy fellow.
"May I have the pleasure of this dance?" he asked, offering his hand.
My heart beat furiously. We would now take our place among the couples already on the dance floor and my aunt would watch our every step for impropriety. I already felt Ekaterina's contemptuous glare: the audacity of her younger sister, attracting a partner before she did, and an attractive one at that. I anticipated she would spend the rest of the evening complaining.
No matter what happened next, vexing Ekaterina made the entire night worthwhile.
I placed my hand on Tolstoy's shoulder and waited for him to lead.
Deftly, he steered me around the circle of waltzing dancers. Despite his size, he was light on his feet, easy to follow, and spoke freely as the orchestra played. "I don't believe I have seen you at a public ball before." He had switched to French, like any ambitious Russian.
"This is my first ball, monsieur." I replied in Russian, not yet comfortable enough with my spoken French to attempt anything beyond the simple monsieur. My mouth felt as though Ekaterina had stuffed it with cotton to make me hush.
He returned to our native tongue. "I thought not. I would have remembered you." At that, he gave a wolfish grin, but his words seemed practiced and I sensed it was the sort of compliment he might pay to any young woman. I wasn't flattered, but remained intrigued. His clear voice had a flat cadence to it, as though he had traveled abroad and picked up some remnant of a foreign tongue.
Desperate for something to say, I ventured: "I detect a hint of an accent."
"Oh you noticed? I spent some time abroad in Russian America."
"America!" I knew nothing of America except snippets in poorly written textbooks, which focused on the unruliness of government by the people and vague insinuations another revolution would occur, and that the cocky republicans who had overthrown their king would soon endure their own set of trials. "Is America as wild as one would expect?"
Tolstoy let out a boisterous laugh, but no one turned to look. Men could laugh as loudly as they pleased, while Mother would flay me alive for such a display. "Oh, I daresay more so. I spent my time there on the Aleutian Islands. Dumped by my fellow sailors after traveling with them all along the western coast, the heartless bastards." At that, he seemed to remember he was talking to a lady. His back stiffened and the tone of his voice formalized. "Do you know where these islands are located, mademoiselle? The Alaskan Peninsula? Have you heard of this place?"
Excerpted from "The Lost Season of Love and Snow"
Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Laam.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Lost Season of Love and Snow from the publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. The review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias. The Why It's no secret that I love historical fiction. Always have and probably always will. I've read a few books about the Tsars, Catherine the Great, and Anastasia. I had never heard of the Pushkins before this book. First Impressions Honestly...when the book first arrived, I was a little disappointed in the cover. It felt sweet and romantic to me, and I'm not usually that kind of reader. As I began to read, once Natalya meets Alexander, I was even more worried that I would not like the book bc of the swoon factor. About the time the couple began to settle into married life and began having a family, I couldn't put the book down. Reading and Summary Natalya was 16 when she met famous Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. The beauty of her family, she was expected to carry the weight of the family's survival on her shoulders. She needed to marry well...essentially whatever it took. She fell in love with Alexander and he with her...so their futures were blinded somewhat to the early warning signs in their relationship including Natalya's need for some semblance of self beyond her beauty and Alexander's jealousness. It's no spoiler how the story ends. Alexander is killed in a duel defending Natalya's honor, and a country blames Pushkin's flirtatious wife for the downfall of more than one man. My Perspective Positives Things I'm Googling...the very best part of historical fiction to me :) the Decembrists Alexander Pushkin Natalya Pushkina Evgeny Onegin Tsar Nicholas Charlotte of Prussia Tsarskoye Selo Fyodor Ivanovich Tolstoy - "The American" Georges d'Anthes and Ekaterina Natalya herself...after Googling some, I decided I agree with the author...Natalya was misunderstood...while beautiful and flirtatious, she was trying her best to live in a world that she perhaps was too independent for...a mind of her own, and it seemed she tried her best to do what was expected of her while also keep her creative husband creating...while also enjoying her own life. The reality of any creative relationship is that someone has to bring in an income. And someone has to keep the outsiders happy while waiting for the creative to create. And have babies, and keep servants, and dress nicely, and balance the household budgets, and smile just enough for the tsar while also keeping him at arm's length, etc, etc. The world they lived in had expectations, for Natalya, even more than the expectations for any other woman in her situation since she had to act in her father's stead where her sisters were concerned, and somehow she and Alexander had to meet those expectations. Theirs really was an almost impossible situation. I felt Natalya's story affected me somewhat like the story of Queen Katherine Parr. Both women were strong enough to live life within the confines of society but also still maneuvering more comfortable places within that stifling society. Neither disappeared when the men they were married to died either. Both married others and went on with their lives. I'll take that kind of history over swooning any day. Negatives Swooning never impresses me...I got tired of Alexander's whining. However, I feel after reading some of the author's writing about the book, that her intention was just
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings A historical fiction book that takes you way back into history and at least for me across the globe. It is 1828 and Russia. A famous poet and a young girl meet and the story unfolds from there. I love when historical fiction is based closely on facts. It always makes me feel like I am learning and getting entertainment at the same time! I especially love it when it is a time and place that I don't read about a lot and although I am completely intrigued by Russian folklore, tradition, and history, I just don't read about it a lot.
The Lost Season of Love and Snow is a beautifully written book about the great Russian Poet and Father of Russian Literature, Alexander Pushkin, and his young wife Natalya. The story is told from Natalya's point of view, which I think is long overdue considering the fact that since Pushkin's death in a duel over her honor, she was "reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg". Natalya, probably the most beautiful woman in Russia at the time, captures Alexander Pushkin's heart at age sixteen and is thrust into events for which she is ill-prepared. When she captures the eye of Tsar Nicholas I and suddenly has all eyes of the malicious and envious Imperial Court in St. Petersburg upon her, things become very difficult for the couple, both of whom become jealous of the other. You can make your own decision regarding whether or not Natalya was a villain, and I'm glad that her story has been told. I very much enjoy books about the Romanov reign in Russia but have mostly only read about Nicholas II and Alexandra, who were Emperor and Empress of the Russian Empire almost 100 years later. Consequently, this book was very interesting and intriguing to me, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Imperial Russian history and Alexander Pushkin, who I must admit, I did not know very much about before I read this book. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Wow, what a sad and haunting story. The Lost Season of Love and Snow began rather tragically with the tale of a brief love story between Alexander Pushkin and his wife, Natalya. The author's words are so descriptive, I felt transferred to the tumultuous Tsar era where royalty and defiance ruled the country. I was truly saddened after reading the book and felt that young Natalya's life should have been better. She should have been treated better by the outsiders who claimed to have loved and appreciated her husband's work. Natayla and Alexander fell in love almost immediately but since he was much older than her, he was careful to treat her with respect and understanding. Many men back then might have treated a young and beautiful woman much differently, but it seemed that Alexander had truly loved his wife. Of course, she was very intelligent and bright and was well matched with the brilliant author who only had eyes for his beloved wife. The injustices that came and went with Natayla and Alexander were very well written. She was quite lonely at times when her husband would go off on his writing journeys leaving her very much alone. She was young and inexperienced so the attention of another man and even that of the current Tsar had tempted her. And while I couldn't really blame her due to her naivete, it was still quite sad how the author described Alexander's push to defend the honor of his wife. While the author indicated that Natayla had stayed faithful to Alexander, I was still heartbroken at her loneliness and how she was literally used by George, a wealthy Frenchman, and the Tsar, Nicolas. The Lost Season of Love and Snow is told in the perspective of Natayla but it is interwoven with the intricate narrative of Natayla's perception of her life with Alexander and how after the death of her husband, she realized that she truly had to "grow up" of sorts. The author also included an Author's Note where it described her reasoning and belief of what happened between Alexander and Natayla and the rumors of her love affairs. Alexander might even have had an unfaithful thought or two, but alas, he was written to have been madly in love with Natalya. And that was where the heartbreak truly gripped me. It was a brief and powerful love that should have lasted a lifetime. Thank you to NetGalley for an egalley of this book.
I was generously sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from the publishers. This is a fictional retelling of Natalia Nikolaevna Goncharova, the last wife of the famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and their love story in the 1830s during the reign of Tsar Nicholas told from the perspective of Natalia herself. A woman who was rumored to be a flirt, may have had affairs with several prominent men and is believed to have selfishly caused the death of her husband. It has often been said that there are two sides to every story and I believe this is true which is one of the reasons why this book was so fascinating. It was a pleasure to be immersed in Russia during a time when Russia was known for its fashion, parties and nobility just as much if not more than the English. Natalia knew shortly after her marriage to Pushkin that she was a bit in over her head when it came to trying to be among the social Imperial court, a loving wife and dutiful daughter with a husband who was known to be one of the greatest poets of his time but also known as a rebel though luckily he was able to keep his head so to speak and was loved by many. Their first year together was mostly full of wonderful times spent together but alas it was not meant to last and sometimes even the best intentions to not work out though it's obvious they loved each other. Alas it is easy to get caught up in the daily struggles of life, the stress of finances and the downside of what can come from being famous. Be prepared to be caught up in the daily life of the Russian upper class, the struggles of trying to be a proper woman according to society and learning how sometimes passion can lead to a heartbreaking end. I don't know a lot about the real events that led to the demise of Pushkin but this book has sparked my curiosity to learn about these two unlikely people who fell in love, had several children and may have had a long life together had a duel not gotten into the way. For those who enjoy mid 19th Century Russia, Pushkin and life in Tsar Nicholas's court, this is the kind of book that you just might want to check out and if you're not into those kinds of things, you just may still enjoy this different take on the Pushkins. I highly recommend this book and I'm glad that I was given a chance to read it!
I received an invitation from the publisher to read this book and accepted based on the fact that I liked the cover and because, well, I just don't say no to books. Once I started reading the book it sounded like it was based on a historical figure. A quick Google search confirmed that Alexander Pushkin was indeed a real person. This didn't really deter me from wanting to read the book although I don't really get whipped into a frenzy over Russian poets. I found the beginning of the story interesting and enjoyed the flirtation and romance between Natalya and Alexander. I also liked reading about the relationship between Natalya and her sisters. There was enough conflict between the sisters and also between Natalya and her mother to keep the story interesting and not overly romantic. Halfway through the story, I began to get a bit bored. Now, it's not the author's fault that the marriage of Natalya and Alexander seemed doomed from the beginning but I got tired of reading the same thing over and over. Alexander had the personality of a creative type and seemed a bit fragile. I didn't find myself liking him all that much and I found it difficult to like Natalya. I admit I don't know a lot about the ways of the people during this time period but it seemed wrong for her to go flirting with the men like she did. She supposedly loved Alexander but her actions to me told a different story. I found myself having no empathy for her. I have no problem with the author's writing style but just got tired of trudging through the same details over and over again. This caused the story to stall a bit and I found my thoughts drifting elsewhere. Not to be overly picky but I found the title didn't fit the story. I'm a bit puzzled about how the author came up with the title. If you know, please drop me a line and let me know. I'd much appreciate it. While this book ended up not really being my cup of tea it was an ok read. It may prove to be an enjoyable read for those who are familiar with these characters or those who like Russian history. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and was not obligated to write a review. All opinions are mine.