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The Mirrored World: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st Printing edition (August 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061231452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061231452
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #458,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“In her excellent second novel, THE MIRRORED WORLD, Debra Dean has composed a resonant and compelling tale. . . . Dean’s writing is superb; she uses imagery natural to the story and an earlier time.” (Seattle Times)

“For those familiar with the story of St. Xenia, this is a gratifying take on a compelling woman. For others, Dean’s vivid prose and deft pacing make for a quick and entertaining read.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Love affairs, rivalries, intrigues, prophecy, cross-dressing, madness, sorrow, poverty—THE MIRRORED WORLD is a litany of both the homely and the miraculous. Intimate and richly appointed, Debra Dean’s Imperial St. Petersburg is as sumptuous and enchanted as the Winter Palace.” (Stewart O’Nan, bestselling author of Last Night at the Lobster)

“THE MIRRORED WORLD explores the mysteries of love and grief and devotion. Against a vivid backdrop of eighteenth century St. Petersburg and Catherine the Great’s royal court, the woman who would become St. Xenia is brought fully to life. Is there a more imaginative, elegant storyteller than Debra Dean?” (Ann Hood, bestselling author of The Knitting Circle)

“With evocative, rich prose and deep emotional resonance, Debra Dean delivers a compelling and captivating story that touches the soul. Truly a wonderful read.” (Garth Stein, bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain)

“Transporting readers to St. Petersburg during the reign of Catherine the Great, Dean brilliantly reconstructs and reimagines the life of St. Xenia, one of Russia’s most revered and mysterious holy figures, in a richly told and thought-provoking work of historical fiction.” (

“Dean’s novel grows more profound and affecting with every page.” (Booklist)

“In Debra Dean’s skilled hands, history comes alive. . . . Though the world she creates is harsh and cold at times, it is the warmth at its center— the power of love — that stays with you in the end.” (Miami Herald)

From the Back Cover

The bestselling author of The Madonnas of Leningrad returns with a breathtaking novel of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagant royal court of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.

Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia, an eccentric dreamer who cares little for social conventions, falls in love with Andrei, a charismatic soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Though husband and wife adore each other, their happiness is overshadowed by the absurd demands of life at the royal court and by Xenia's growing obsession with having a child—a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of her daughter. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes.

Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and a blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and its new Empress, Catherine, who perceives her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses. In this evocative and elegantly written tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures. This is an exploration of the blessings of loyal friendship, the limits of reason, and the true costs of loving deeply.

More About the Author

Debra Dean's bestselling novel THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD was a New York Times Editors' Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, CONFESSIONS OF A FALLING WOMAN, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

Her new novel, THE MIRRORED WORLD, is a breathtaking tale of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagance and artifice of the royal court in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.

A native of Seattle, she lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University. She loves to talk with book groups. You can find her at and on Facebook at

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 79 customer reviews
This beautifully written book will take a short time to read.
The characters are well developed, the backdrop of the story is a fascinating place.
The story was fast paced, but the characters did not engage me.
Frances J. Sills

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By E. Smiley on August 13, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Living up to such a beautiful cover isn't easy, and at the beginning this book felt fairly average. But for me, it came together with a certain beauty that makes me glad to have it on my shelves.

The Mirrored World tells the story of an 18th century Russian religious figure, known as St. Xenia, as seen through the eyes of her cousin, Dasha. It's definitely a secular tale though; using Dasha as the narrator leaves readers the room to decide for ourselves whether Xenia is holy or mad. It's also a very short book (even beyond the brief page count, the font and spacing are generous) and reads more like a novella than a novel: the book is pared down to its bare necessities, with no fluff and every scene meaningful. What it isn't is a fictionalized biography of St. Xenia; we see little of her life after her spiritual transformation. This book is more a work of art than an educational piece of historical fiction, although you'll get some history from it.

So what makes the book come together so well? There are the well-realized characters: in particular Xenia, who seems to feel everything more deeply than most people, and Dasha, whose steadfast love for the cousin she can't quite understand is the bright spot in a melancholy book. There's the beautiful, cold imagery. There's the simple but well-crafted prose. There's the author's expert use of all of this to create and sustain a mood--the same sort of mood that's evoked by that lovely cover.

If I have a criticism, it's that this book took a little while to start working for me, and then it was over so quickly; and I'd have liked to see the character depth that a full-length novel can provide. But when a book leaves you wishing it were longer, you know it's doing something right.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia K. Robertson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean was a fabulous book, so I jumped at the chance to order her latest, The Mirrored World through Amazon Vine. Taking place in St. Petersburg in the 18th Century, The Mirrored World is so beautifully written that it brings to mind music and poetry combined.

The Mirrored World unfolds through the eyes of Daria Nikolayevna Pososhkova, or Dasha. On the fringes of the St. Petersburg Court, Dasha sees her cousin Xenia married to a court musician, Andrei. Dasha comes to live with the young newlyweds, but soon, tragedy overtakes Xenia. She abandons her old way of life, gives away all her possession and disappears. Dasha finally discovers that Xenia is living among the poor of St. Petersburg, where she is considered a seer and a healer. While Dasha coaxes Xenia back home on several occasions, Xenia always makes her way back to the poor where she seems to derive great joy from helping the lowest of the low. Xenia also manages to orchestrate Dasha's life in ways that Dasha could never imagine. The Xenia in The Mirrored World is actually based on the life of Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg, who was often called a fool for Christ, or Holy fool.

There were two things that drew me to The Mirrored World. One was the way Dean draws parallel lives between Dasha and Xenia and the Russian Court. The book begins with Empress Anna on the throne, and ends during the reign of Catherine the Great. Each ruler had their own pleasures, which dictated the behavior of the nobility. "Empress Elizabeth's constant entertainments, once a source of delight, had become a tedious obligation and a formidable expense.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ruth Anderson VINE VOICE on September 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Debra Dean's The Mirrored World attempts to shed light on the life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, an renowned eighteenth-century mystic and "fool for Christ," canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988. Little is known of the particulars of Xenia's life, other than following the death of her husband, she supposedly gave all her wealth to the poor and took to the streets of St. Petersburg wearing her late husband's military uniform. Dean approaches Xenia's life through the eyes of Dasha, a fictional younger cousin, and the result is as much or more Dasha's story as it is Xenia's, and more of a rumination on the complexities of faith and female friendships than a fictional accounting of a legendary figure's life.

Spanning the reigns of Elizabeth to Catherine the Great, as the daughters of lesser nobles -- not extravagantly wealthy but not quite poor -- cousins Dasha and Xenia are uniquely positioned to observe the political tumult of the age and the stark contrast between their society's "haves" and "have nots." From the moment Xenia joined Dasha's family household, her gentle spirit captured her young cousin's loyalty. Xenia is perhaps best described as cerebral -- an aficionado of the arts and music, more concerned with the soul than the economics of being a young woman in the eighteenth century, and therefore in many respects a commodity on the marriage market. With no marriage prospects, Dasha becomes attached to Xenia's household, and it is through her eyes that we witness the euphoria of her cousin's courtship and love match, the heartbreak of losing a child, and the greatest blow -- the loss of her spouse, the pivot point which changes the course of Xenia's life forever.
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