The bestselling author of 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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“With evocative, rich prose and deep emotional resonance, Debra Dean delivers a compelling and captivating story that touches the soul. Truly a wonderful read.”
“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.”
“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.”
A surprised Southern matriarch is confronted by her family at an intervention… A life-altering break-in triggers insomniac introspection in a desperate actor… Streetwise New York City neighbors let down their guard for a naïve puppeteer and must suffer the consequences…
In this stunning collection of short stories – five of which are being published for the very first time – bestselling, award-winning author Debra Dean displays the depth and magnitude of her extraordinary literary talent. Replete with the seamless storytelling and captivating lyrical voice that made her debut novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, a national bestseller, Dean's Confessions of a Falling Woman is a haunting, satisfying, and unforgettable reading experience.
This is a brilliant and moving debut novel about one woman’s struggle to preserve an artistic heritage from the horrors and destruction of World War II. In this extraordinary first novel by Debra Dean, the siege of Leningrad by German troops in World War Two is echoed by the destructive siege against the mind and memory of an elderly Russian woman. Marina, the woman in question, was a guide at Leningrad ’s famous Hermitage Museum. In the late autumn of 1941, the Luftwaffe roared over and around Leningrad, she and her colleagues were set the task of taking the thousands of priceless paintings, sculptures and objets d’art out of the grand galleries of the former Tsarist Palace and storing them safely against the German bombardment and seemingly inevitable invasion. The German assault threatened to destroy a large part of Europe’s artistic history: if Leningrad fell to the Germans, everything that was not destroyed would be looted and given to the Nazis. Marina, whose own parents had disappeared during Stalin’s 1930s’ purges of intellectuals, clings to her hope of becoming an art historian herself through her job at the Hermitage. The novel shifts between Marina ’s experiences at the Hermitage during the siege of Leningrad and her current existence as a very old lady in America whose mind has begun to fray. The shifts are masterfully done: Debra Dean depicts, with subtle skill, the way Marina’s mind, already ravaged by disease, picks up some incident, object or person at the wedding she’s been brought to, and flips back to the dreadful year-and-a-half in Leningrad which has informed her life ever since. This is an evocative and deeply moving novel about memory itself.
Advance Praise for The Madonnas of Leningrad
“An unforgettable story of love, survival, and the power of imagination in the most tragic circumstances. Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share.” – Isabel Allende, New York Times bestselling author
“The Madonnas of Leningrad is an extraordinary debut, a deeply lovely novel that evokes with uncommon deftness the terrible, heartbreaking beauty that is life in wartime. Like the glorious ghosts of the paintings in the Hermitage that lie at the heart of the story, Dean’s exquisite prose shimmers with a haunting glow, illuminating for us the notion that art itself is perhaps our most necessary nourishment. A superbly graceful novel.” – Chang-Rae Lee, New York Times bestselling author of Aloft and Native Speaker
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