Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ENCHANTMENTS by Kathryn Harrison

ENCHANTMENTS

By Kathryn Harrison

Pub Date: March 6th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6347-5
Publisher: Random House

Harrison (While They Slept, 2008, etc.) brings her trademark interest in twisted family relationships to bear in this historical fiction about Rasputin’s daughter.

When the controversial monk—believed mad by some, a populist holy man by others—is assassinated in 1917, his favorite daughter Masha and her younger sister Varya have been living with their father in St. Petersburg attending school. Weather and political conditions make travel home to their mother in rural Siberia impossible. They are brought to live with Tsar Nicholay’s increasingly isolated family. Hoping that Masha has inherited some of her father’s magical healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks the girl to attend to 13-year-old Prince Alyosha, who suffers from hemophilia, a condition considered too shocking to reveal. Masha, whose great skill is riding horses bareback, has no healing ability, but she and Alyosha entertain each other with stories about her father’s rise from rural, illiterate farmer to itinerant healer to revered holy man, and about Nicholas and Alexandra’s doomed union. Masha adored her father and accepted his carousing and womanizing as his due, as did her better-educated mother. There is a gratuitous whiff of incest in Masha’s unnecessary denial that there was anything untoward in their relationship. More than a whiff of sexual energy hovers between Alyosha and Masha. Although five years her junior and sickly, he actively pursues her. They do not have intercourse, but Masha allows him favors, his hand roving as they tell their tales. Revolutionary winds are swirling, and the royal family soon finds itself under house arrest. Masha and Alyosha fantasize about escaping to Chicago, but life has other plans.           

Harrison’s rococo prose fits her subject matter, but she adds little to Romanov lore while Rasputin’s story, written at arm’s length, never comes to life.