The Mirrored World

Written by Debra Dean
Review by Veronika Pelka

The Mirrored World is a fictional memoir set in Russia just before and during the rule of Catherine the Great and details, with profound emotional intimacy, the lives of two women. Dasha is a cousin to Xenia and sympathetically observes and comments on daily events. Although the focus is on Xenia, a future patron saint of St. Petersburg, it is Dasha whom we come to know and love in her role as the less fortunate.

For the nobility, court life is vibrant, but the demands are also onerous, and they find themselves constricted by an overpowering obligation to society while simultaneously being dominated by traditions of religious mysticism and ignorance. These are not happy people. Status and position are important for survival, as are family connections. Great care is given to arranging marriages. No one is asking for Dasha’s hand, but Xenia is privileged, for she is permitted to marry the man she loves. The couple is devoted to one another until death takes their first child. Soon thereafter Xenia is widowed, and, possessing a turbulent Slavic soul with its inherent fatalism, is unable to overcome her grief. Dasha is alarmed as she watches her cousin descend into madness.

Sadness haunts this story, but at its essence, it is redemptive. As Xenia recedes into the background, Dasha moves forward to become a fuller, richer character. She finally acquires a husband, and eventually a son. She never stops loving her friend and only in the last pages does she accept both their fates. Debra Dean is a truly gifted writer. Highly recommended.