The Lost Souls of Angelkov
When Cossacks kidnap Countess Antonia Mitlovsky’s son, Misha, from the grounds of the Angelkov estate one snowy day in 1861, she initially holds herself together, not prepared to ‘come undone’ and disgrace herself in front of the servants.
This is all the more difficult given Canadian writer Linda Holeman’s decision to make Antonia an alcoholic, a decision as intriguing to the reader as it is useful to the story. Holeman elicits sympathy for Antonia, however, as she looks past the usual trappings of the Russian aristocracy to capture the atmosphere of Antonia’s world, both geographically and emotionally — bleak, challenging and isolated in every respect.
Using the kidnapping as a backdrop, Holeman also examines the changing political nature of Russia in the 1860s, in particular Czar Alexander II’s edict which freed the serfs on private estates. What anxieties, resentments and practical considerations must inherently arise when 23 million ‘souls’ are freed overnight? Holeman uses these historical details effectively to give the reader a better understanding of Antonia’s marital and financial situations and the circumstances which lead to her son being taken.
Although there are a couple of minor plotlines which feel slightly convoluted or contrived (the ones involving the mysterious musician and the overly faithful servant spring to mind), this book is still a good read with an interesting twist on a turbulent period in history.