This book was inspired by the life of Xenia, patron saint of St. Petersburg, but is told from the perspective of her (imaginary, I think) cousin. We watch as Xenia falls madly in love and her complete devastation following her husbands death. As Xenia finds solace in giving her belongings for the poor and slowly transforms into a pauper revered as a “holy fool”, her cousin must decide whether Xenia needs saving from herself or just support in her choices. Her cousins life is also deeply impacted by Xenia’s transformation which helps her find love in the most unlikely of places.
The first thing that struck me about this book was the gorgeous and evocative imagery. Early on, the narrator remembers a fire that occurred when she was very young and the author did an amazing job conveying the feel of the scene with just a few of the narrator’s impressions. Every sentence was well crafted, every word carefully chosen to form a certain image. This was true throughout the book. Because the author did such a wonderful job conveying what it felt like to be in a particular scene, I felt as though I was present with the main character and empathized deeply with her feelings.
I’ll definitely want to find a non-fiction book about this era as well, because the historical details were fascinating. Overlapping the beginning of Catherine the Great’s rule of Russia, it seems being part of the court could be very dangerous as harsh punishments were visited on those who displeased the empress. My one complaint with this book is that despite the sometimes dangerous situations, I never felt concerned about our protagonist. And for all that the events sound exciting when you describe them, I found the plot somewhat bland and un-engaging because of my lack of worry about what was going to happen next. However, I can’t put my finger on any one thing that may have made me feel uninvolved with the plot, so I think other people might enjoy the book even more than I did.This review first published on Doing Dewey.