Kathryn Harrison‘s latest novel centers on Rasputin’s daughter, Matryona Grigorievna Rasputina. After Rasputin’s death, his 18-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family. When the royal family is placed under house arrest, Masha begins telling stories (both true and imagined) to distract young Aloysha, a hemophiliac, from his suffering.
Robert Alexander’s Rasputin’s Daughter (Viking, 2006) focused on events surrounding Rasputin’s death. The Enchantments tackles the later experiences of the same historical figure. The storytelling aspect, and the love that develops between the two young people, make this one special.
Adult/High School–In 1917, after the death of their father, the “mad monk” Rasputin, 18-year-old Masha and her younger sister, Varya, are sent to be wards of the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. Hoping that Masha may have her father’s healing powers, the Tsarina asks her to befriend the young Tsarevitch, Alyosha, who is ailing with hemophilia. Within months, the Russian revolution forces the abdication of the Romanovs and the entire family is sequestered within the palace. The story of who Rasputin was, his influence on the Tsarina and, ultimately, on the Russian people unfolds in a series of stories that Masha tells to Aloysha while they are confined. The narrative shifts throughout the novel. Masha narrates directly to readers in first person, but her stories to Alyosha take on a different voice. Toward the end, he describes his final days through the journal he successfully smuggled out of captivity before his death, which made its way to Masha in America. This is a love story, and a story of history and a tragedy. Teens who know their world history will be able delve into the book easily. Those who don’t may be challenged to follow the shifting narrative. Aloysha’s determination not to die without experiencing normal teen activities, including sex, is an important theme reflecting his hopefulness even as he knows his own murder looms. Masha’s optimism and practicality allows her to survive the tragedy that surrounded her life in Russia. This book begs readers to head to their nearest library to find out the “real” story.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA