In this novel’s afterword, author Harrison explains that as an 11-year-old she latched onto Robert Massie’s masterful biography, Nicholas and Alexandra. It became part of her, and later, when Harrison learned that a bear mauled Rasputin’s daughter in the 1930s in Maria Rasputin’s circus act in Peru, Indiana, Harrison knew she had to write the story.
Enchantments begins with the “mad monk” Grigory Rasputin’s body being pulled from the frozen Neva River in 1917. Now the forces that would destroy old Russia gather an unstoppable momentum. Masha and Varya, his daughters, are momentarily cocooned from the upheaval, for the Tsarina has brought them to Tsarskoe Selo, the Romanovs’ royal residence 15 miles outside St. Petersburg. Varya, 16, spends her time with OTMA (the grand duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia), while Masha, 18, Rasputin’s favorite, becomes the 14-year-old Tsarevich’s only true friend. As their world collapses, Masha tells Alyosha stories of her childhood in Siberia, and of her father’s miracles and escapades. Alyosha lives and breathes in these pages as a boy who, alone among his family, has no illusions about what will befall them. Harrison’s Rasputin, seen through his daughter’s eyes, is a sympathetic force of nature.
This is a dazzling, haunting novel, a love story that balances magic and the sweat of history, our compulsion to understand “how it really happened,” and our human love of the mysterious.
“We don’t need narratives that rationalize human experience so much as those that enlarge it with the breath of mystery,” wrote Harrison in a recent op-ed for the New York Times. She surely succeeded in doing that with Enchantments. Highly recommended.
336 (US), 320 (UK)