Received: Received a copy from the publisher through Netgalley
Release Date: January 26, 2016
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The setting: the early 1940s, New York—city of refuge, city of hope, with the specter of a red-hot Europe at war.
At the novel’s center: Anna (known as the Rat), an exotic Hungarian countess with the face of an angel, beautiful eyes, and a seraphic smile, with a passionate intelligence, an exquisite ugliness, and the power to enchant . . . Her second cousin Herbert, a former minor Austrian civil servant who believes in Esperanto and the international rights of man, wheeling and dealing in New York, powerful in the social sphere yet under the thumb of his wife, Adeline . . . Michael, their missing homosexual son . . . Felix, a German pediatrician who dabbles in genetic engineering, practicing from his Upper East Side office with his little dachshund, Schatzie, by his side . . . The Tolstoi String Quartet, four men and their instruments, who for twenty years lived as one, playing the great concert halls of Europe, escaping to New York with their money sewn into the silk linings of their instrument cases . . .
And watching them all: Herbert’s eight-year-old granddaughter, Maria, who understands from the furtive fear of her mother, and the huddled penury of their lives, and the sense of being in hiding, even in New York, that life is a test of courage and silence, Maria witnessing the family’s strange comings and goings, being regaled at night, when most are asleep, with the intoxicating, thrilling stories of their secret pasts . . . of lives lived in Saint Petersburg . . . of husbands being sent to the front and large, dangerous debts owed to the Tsar of imperial Russia, of late-night visits by coach to the palace of the Romanovs to beg for mercy and avoid execution . . . and at the heart of the stories, told through the long nights with no dawn in sight, the strange, electrifying tale of a pact made in desperation with the private adviser to the Tsar and Tsarina—the mystic faith healer Grigory Rasputin (Russian for “debauched one”), a pact of “companionship” between Anna (the Rat) and the scheming Siberian peasant–turned–holy man, called the Devil by some, the self-proclaimed “only true Christ,” meeting night after night in Rasputin’s apartments, and the spellbinding, unspeakable things done there in the name of penance and pleasure . . .
This book had a lot of potential for me, but in the end I really had a hard time enjoying the story. This was a truly difficult book to connect with and I felt that the story switched around characters that I could never get the feel for anyone. I felt lost as to what was happening a lot of the time in this story because it jumped around so much, from past to present and from character to character... I'm the type who likes a little more fluidity to my stories.
I will say I was interested in the idea of this family and all the other characters, trying to start a new life after many hardships and learning about the trials of actually getting out of Russia and how it has affected their families now. There isn't really too much I am able to say about this book, everything felt all over the place and there were quite a few disturbing sections that really made me reconsider finishing... in the end I am happy I did force myself to continue because there are some redeeming parts, as Maria (who I felt was older than 8 in the way she is written) gets to know her aunt, this mysterious creature who throws everyone for a loop when she unexpectedly arrives.
I just found it hard to connect everyone's stories together in this book, and to get past the unspeakable things that were happening. I felt like there was a point where things just seemed to go a little over the top for me and I couldn't concentrate on everything happening. Kathleen Spivack definitely has a special story here that I think many will enjoy, her writing transports you into the characters' world, but for me it just didn't work.
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