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Mirrored World the by Debra Dean
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Mirrored World the (edition 2012)

by Debra Dean

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10719112,824 (3.46)13
Member:wagner.sarah35
Title:Mirrored World the
Authors:Debra Dean
Info:Harper Collins USA (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:historical fiction, Russia, 18th Century, Catherine the Great, St. Petersburg, Saint Xenia, 2012

Work details

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean

Recently added byjoririchardson, DisneyDiva86, private library, KRoan, BLBera, susanbevans, torontoc, DoingDewey
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Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  DoingDewey | Jun 29, 2014 |
I suspect this shall be one of those reviews that sounds like I didn't like the book, but I did for the most part, so make note of that. Debra Dean writes beautifully, and I never found my attention waning from The Mirrored World. However, the story really lacked any sort of emotional impact or connection, largely because of the over-brisk pacing and dull main character.

Let me start, however, with what kept The Mirrored World a positive read for me. For one thing, I am hugely into anything about Russia or the Soviet Union, thus my interest in Dean's novel. There's something about Russia I find so captivating, and I suspect that has to do with the wide divide between the serfs and the upper classes. The pomposity of the events and the exhibitionism of the tsars and tsarinas is astounding. Dean delves into the excesses of the reins of Elizabeth, Peter III, and Catherine the Great. Throughout are such historical goodies as a party where Elizabeth ordered everyone to crossdress or the way she married off people for her own entertainment. I was definitely in it for the historical pageantry, and that was enough to get me through.

Unfortunately, the pace moves so quickly through time that much of history is glossed over, like watching decades of Russian history pass by from a bullet train. The Mirrored World clocks in at just over 200 pages, and it could have been much longer. In those pages, Dean takes Dasha from a child to an old woman, which gives you a sense of how quickly the pace goes. Brevity may be the soul of wit, but this novel is not a humorous one and meaning was obscured in the rush to the finish.

Dasha, however, is the biggest obstacle. She has almost no personality, and is more an observer of the people around her than anything. Of course, the people around her are interesting, but I kept expecting their to be a purpose to her, for her to learn something or do something in the course of the narrative, but she only ever reflected the values of those around her, particularly Xenia, though for a while she reflects her eunuch husband, who was definitely my favorite character.

More than anything, The Mirrored World is a tale of Dasha mirroring Xenia's life. She follows the lively Xenia everywhere, going to live with Xenia and her husband after the marriage. When Xenia tells Dasha to wed Gaspari, Dasha does. As Xenia becomes a holy fool, Dasha turns more and more to charity, even with the prospect of bankrupting herself in the process, as Xenia did before her. Their dynamic baffled me, and is perhaps a bit alien to our culture.

While a prettily-written novel, The Mirrored World failed to captivate me, skimming on the surface of history, rather than really diving in to where the feelings and the meaning reside. I liked it, but couldn't help comparing it to another book I enjoyed more set in the exact same time period, The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. By no means will this experience with Debra Dean be my last, but I do hope for a bit more from The Madonnas of Leningrad. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Jul 29, 2013 |
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. ( )
  DoingDewey | Jul 20, 2013 |
This is a novel based on a real-life historical figure, Saint Xenia. She was a Russian woman who, following her husband's death, went made gave away all of her possessions to the poor of St. Petersburgh. She lived for many years, possessing what many believed to be prophetizing powers.

The book, however, was a bit disappointing. I didn't think the characters were particularly well developed; their portrayal was shallow. Dasha, Xenia's cousin, is the narrator. She wasn't a particularly interesting character in her own right and, as narrator, she pretty much told the facts without much depth of feeling.

Madonnas of Leningrad was so much better! ( )
  LynnB | Jul 17, 2013 |
Full-disclosure: I received an advance reader's copy of this book through the First Reads program. I doubt anyone will think my opinion was bought.

What a disappointment. I admit, I was lured in by the beautiful cover. Upon realizing it was a retelling of the life of St Xenia, I consulted google to learn more. I did not realize that the two line biography--Her husband died. She went mad and gave away all her belongings.--summed up the entire story. I flipped rapidly through the last 50-75 pages. And missed nothing.

While the beginning showed promise, by mid-book, it fell flat. Such a disappointing book. ( )
  amandamay83 | Apr 2, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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Epigraph
For if we genuinely love Him...we awaken as the Beloved in every last part of our body. -- Saint Symeon the Theologian
Dedication
For my mother, Beverly A. Taylor
First words
Yes, this was her home many years ago, when she was still Xenia.
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Book description
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.
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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)

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