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Enchantments: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 6, 2012

102 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

A Letter from the Author
When I was eleven, my mother gave me Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra. It was the first “grownup” book I read, and I loved it. But without having studied European history I focused on the individuals involved in the Russian Revolution rather than the sweeping social changes that precipitated it. Earlier in my childhood, a car accident had left me fascinated by blood--an eager reader of vampire stories, accounts of Catholic martyrdoms, novels with consumptive heroines hemorrhaging through their chapters--and I understood the rise of the Bolsheviks in terms of the hidden tragedy of the Romanovs: the sole heir to the empire was a boy whose life was always in danger, a hemophiliac who could, a hundred years ago, have died as the result of a nosebleed or a bump on the knee.

Into this engrossing scenario stepped the infamous and sinister Grigory Rasputin, the sole person with the power to stop Prince Alexei from bleeding to death. At eleven and struggling, as I would for many more years, with the disappearance of my father when I was a baby, I found the idea of a dark, mysterious priest whose presence granted life and whose absence left a child vulnerable to annihilation irresistible. For me, the prince’s disease--and the faith healer who could control it--was the key to the Romanovs’ ruin. Their execution in a basement in Siberia seemed a redundancy; after Rasputin was assassinated I knew they were doomed.

I reread Nicholas and Alexandra in my early twenties, and I never forgot the story. Rasputin in particular continued to haunt me, and when I discovered his elder daughter had escaped Russia and eventually became a successful lion-tamer, I was drawn back into what had been familiar territory. Too, my understanding of the collapse of the Russian Empire changed once I learned Rasputin had had children of his own, the eldest of whom toured the United States as the “Daughter of the Mad Monk Whose Feats in Europe Astonished the World.” Not only was I was seduced by the story all over again, now I had a way of entering the Romanov’s world: through a passionate young woman who loved a father whose flaws she accepted, and who had her own vantage from which to view the Romanovs and the Revolution.

Of course, once I’d followed my heroine into the Alexander Palace, it was only a matter of time before she fell in love. Though Masha couldn’t fulfill the tsarina’s hope that the daughter of Rasputin could do as her father had done and protect Alexei from injury, she could provide him the solace of her company. Finding magic and romance in the least likely of places, Masha transforms the prince’s bleak vision of the world crumbling around him. Their time together is short--only a few months--but her gift for story-telling transports the two of them to an imagined realm of endless possibility, a world in which they live out the fairytale endings the real world cannot promise.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* After the body of the revered and loathed mystic Rasputin is pulled from the ice-covered Neva River in Saint Petersburg, on New Year’s Day, 1917, his two daughters are taken in by the Romanovs. The czarina is hoping that Masha will be able to ease the suffering of their hemophiliac son, Alyosha, as her father did. Masha does not possess Rasputin’s magnetizing powers, but she is strong and canny and has a gift for storytelling. And so in Harrison’s dazzling return to historical fiction, in her thirteenth book, she envisions Masha as a Russian Scheherazade regaling the preternaturally dignified heir with enchanting tales. Masha tells the opulently romantic and sad love story of his parents, Nikolay and Alexandra, and remembers her father not as the monster history portrays but, rather, as an ecstatic unholy holy man and a wildly libidinous itinerant faith healer on a madcap motorcar pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Mutually infatuated, the czarevitch and his word healer stoically face separation as Alyosha and his family meet their cruel and gruesome fate, and Masha escapes to Paris, then to America, where she puts her trust in animals and becomes a lion tamer. Harrison sets historic facts like jewels in this intricately fashioned work of exalted empathy and imagination, a literary Fabergé egg. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A best-selling author of great literary finesse, Harrison will attract fans and new readers while on a national tour with this bewitching historical novel about the infamous demise of a legendary dynasty. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400063477
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063475
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,013,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Author Photo by Joyce Ravid.

Kathryn Harrison was born in 1961 in Los Angeles, California, where she was raised by her mother's parents. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers Workshop, where, in 1986, she met her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison. They had a first date on Friday, April 25, and on Monday, April 28, they moved in together. The Harrisons married in 1988, and live in Brooklyn with their three children. Kathryn writes novels, memoirs, personal essays, biography, and true crime. She is a frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, and teaches memoir at Hunter College's MFA program in Creative Writing, in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By C. Bennett VINE VOICE on February 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel of the end of the Romanov Empire is lush with imagination and color, it is rich in weaving together a cobbling of myth, fable and religion. I dived into this novel head-first and did not emerge until it finished.

The main character is Rasputin's oldest daughter. She learns of her father's death (murder) and is sent with her younger sister to the Romanov Palace to become wards of the Tsar. The Tsarina hopes that Rasputin's daughter also possesses his healing powers to alleviate the sufferings of her hemophiliac son, and heir. Alas, the daughter does not possess the powers of her controversial father, but she does know how to comfort him in other ways. Mainly, in her ability to tell stories.

This novel is a telling of the fate of the Romanovs and the Rasputins, but it weaves those historical narratives into glossy, gossamer tales of fable and legend. A crow arrives to tell a young girl that she will marry Rasputin. The Virgin Mary appears to Rasputin in a snow and ice-laden tree. A cloud surrounds the Tsarina at all times. There are Wild West shows and daring feats of horseback. There are jewels, midnight sleigh rides, and brocades. There are sweets, bleeding navels, and tears. There are bright costumes, curved swords, and the felling of poplar trees by a ruler.

While the story is not chronological, it is instead a masterful weaving of time, emotion and memory. It is like an Impressionist Painting of this era, wrought by Rasputin's all-seeing daughter, who resides at the side of the Romanov heir.

It is colorful in language and filled with imaginative prose. I enjoyed it immensely. This is a novel to get lost in!
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Historical Fiction Notebook on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Where do I start with this book? It's quite rare for me to dislike a book so strongly and yet keep on reading. Some part of me believed that the book could not possibly maintain such flat characterization and plot development for the length of an entire novel and yet it did. Moreover, the book managed to be amateurishly detailed in terms of historical content, incredibly insulting and unrealistic in its depiction of the Tsarevich Alexei (who is inexplicably referred to as Aloysha for the entire book) as well as dull and confusing. It read as if the author had paged through Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra," decided it was a good story and decided to write the novel with no further research.

The concept of Rasputin's daughter befriending Nicholas and Alexandra's only son and keeping him entertained with stories from their families' intertwined histories is an interesting idea. Unfortunately, Harrison can't seem to decide whether she is approaching the concept through magic realism or as a straight-forward historical novel. What are clearly meant to be "lyrical" passages of storytelling come across as self-conscious and strained. Harrison's prose never reaches gorgeous enough heights to justify her flights of fancy.

I was particularly offended by small historical mistakes as well as the gratuitous, grossly-detailed scenes of relationships between characters. I'd initially been quite excited to see this new novel pop up on Amazon and was thinking about buying it. Fortunately, I received a free copy through NetGalley - Enchantments ended up being a waste of my time but not a waste of money.
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42 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Misty Baker VINE VOICE on February 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love learning new things. Usually they come in the form of lessons:

"Slamming your hand in the oven hurts."

"Trees don't move, avoid running into them."

"Leave the gun...take the canoli."

but in that rare opportunity that I get to expand my brain under the assumption of pure entertainment I get giddy.

When I was in High School, Fox released a movie called "Anastasia." I loved this movie (Don't judge me!) and as a result became unabashedly obsessed with the Romanov dynasty. I watched movies about them, I scoured every National Geographic I could find, and pretty much made the local library my "B". I just couldn't get enough. But...with all of my note taking, and obsessive compulsive Wikipedia-ing I never really paid attention to Rasputin. Oh, he was there, lurking in the background like a disease, but my attention was required elsewhere so off it went. Until now. (Damn kooky bastard.)

My initial reason for grabbing this book was 1 sentence:

"After Rasputin's body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family--including the headstrong Prince Alyosha."

Hellooooo Romanovs!!

But instead of getting Masha with a little Alyosha foreplay, I got a Russian history lesson. A very intriguing Russian history lesson cleverly disguised as fiction.

"St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin's body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family--including the headstrong Prince Alyosha.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Suzi Hough VINE VOICE on October 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Masha, daughter of the infamous Rasputin, entertains the young tsarevich Alyosha as he recovers from an injured leg during his family's imprisonment during the Russian Revolution by telling him stories. The tales the two exchange range from traditional Russian folklore to the lives of Rasputin and the tsar and tsarina.

I'm usually a fan of historical fiction, so I had high hopes when I started reading Kathryn Harrison's latest novel, but after making it through 150 pages (about halfway through) I just couldn't keep going. The chapters jump around in time as the never-ending line of stories march steadily on. These snapshots of Russian history are heavily embroidered under Masha's retellings as she imagines the emotions and character of men and women she never met. Sometimes she speaks as straightforward as a history textbook; at other times, the stories veer into magical realism as ikons come to life and a mad monk heals the sick.

As I read, I couldn't be sure how much of the book was 'true' versus how much came from the imagination of our narrator, Masha. I mean, some of the stories involved in-depth details of her father's extramarital relations, which is a disturbing thought. Did Rasputin discuss his affairs openly in the house? No? Why does Masha imagine her father's sexual deviations in such intimate detail? That's a little weird.

The style of the novel just didn't work for me. It seemed scattered and slow-paced, and absolutely lacking in enchantment.
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