The Woman of a Thousand Names

Written by Alexandra Lapierre Jeffrey Zuckerman (trans.)
Review by Andrea Connell

This is the story of Maria “Moura” Ignatyevna Zakrevskaya, an aristocrat who—along with the rest of her social class—suffered at the hands of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, and of the destruction of the way of life she once knew. It is a tale of her survival and of the men who deeply influenced her life in many ways. It’s a story of a seductress, adventuress, and perhaps a spy—a woman who couldn’t be pinned down.

As fascinating as the telling of this historical period and its repercussions are, the novel has a few flaws. The book is a fascinating combination of fiction, history, and biography, but these elements aren’t meshed as well as they could be, leading to a jarring narrative. The constant shifting between points of view, even within a single page, is highly distracting. The sudden switches between epistolary style and that of a traditional novel is disconcerting, interrupting the flow of the story. The amount of repetition and constant famous name-dropping is also distracting. This is a massive tome, at over 600 pages.

Overall, readers interested in the history of 20th-century Russia will appreciate this book. There are sections that will particularly grab the reader, such as horrors of living in the country during the Revolution and the rise of its notorious leaders, as well as the literary landscape that flourished during this time. Moura’s relationships with legendary literary figures, such as Maxim Gorky and H. G. Wells, and the portion of her life spent trying to escape this “new” Russia made this lengthy book worth reading.