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Shadows and Elephants Paperback – January 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
A pair of 19th-century British spiritualists travel to India to meet the masters of their craft in Hower's latest, a historical novel loosely based on the lives of Russian-born mystic Madame Helena Blavatsky and her partner, Col. Henry Steel Olcott, a popular journalist and Civil War hero. Ben Blackburn is Olcott's fictional counterpart, a charismatic journalist whose romantic interest is piqued when he encounters Irena Milanova, a sensuous, passionate spiritualist whose work is becoming increasingly renowned. Milanova's sexual hangups prevent them from consummating their affair, but the two become friends based on attraction and a deep spiritual bond that sends them off to India after they form a spiritual society together. Their journey is an up-and-down affair that starts off with some successful promotional efforts, but problems surface when Blackburn becomes involved with a married British expatriate and Milanova's jealousy causes her to take increasing risks in her various miracle-producing sessions. Blackburn goes off on a bender of his own when he discovers what he thinks is a gift for psychic healing, but soon the pair find the integrity of their efforts being investigated by a committee seeking to expose them as frauds. Hower (The New Life Hotel, etc.) paints a compelling picture of the spiritualist movement and the celebrities it drew, but the best passages are those that delve into the motives and emotions of his two flawed protagonists as they learn why they are drawn to the possibility of miracles, astral journeys and psychic phenomena. This book works on two levels, as both history and character study, and it is certain to be a welcome addition to the small but noteworthy subgenre of fiction dealing with spiritualism.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
As spiritualism flourished in America after the Civil War, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky burst onto the scene in garish costume to debunk "fake" mediums while building her own reputation as a conduit to the other side. With her partner, Col. Henry Steel Olcott, a respected journalist, Blavatsky stayed at the top of her game until a lack of interest forced them overseas. Hower, author of Queen of the Silver Dollar (1997), thinly disguises Blavatsky and Olcott in the forms of Irena Milanova and Capt. Benjamin Blackburn and relates their tale in prose split equally between captivating dialogue and wooden historical recitations. Blackburn's changing impression of Milanova can be summed up in his description of her eyes: first they're "enormous, heavy-lidded, and blue as radiant blue marbles," later they're "bulging." When the pair travels to India and he sees her for the grasping opportunist she is, his disillusionment is almost crippling. Perhaps saddest of all, Milanova fools herself until the bitter end. Hower's novel may appeal to readers of Chris Adrian's Gob's Grief [BKL D 1 00]. Melanie Duncan
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