We Shall See the Sky Sparkling

Written by Susana Aikin
Review by Kristen McDermott

Lily Throop is an unusual heroine: an accomplished young actress who finds very little time actually to perform her beloved Shakespearean roles, even as she becomes the toast of the London stage in 1899. Beset by rapacious theater managers and hot-and-cold lovers, hounded by scandal, and just generally discontented, she flees mid-story to Russia to perform with an English-speaking troupe in a nation poised on the brink of revolution. There she falls for a charismatic aristocrat and becomes embroiled in his revolutionary schemes, following him across the vast continent to Vladivostok and the Russo-Japanese War.

The scope of Aikin’s narrative is impressive, and her detailed descriptions of the primordial Russian landscape are quite lovely. Her characters, though, are very stiff, speaking and thinking in tones of formal melodrama. In particular, Aikin has seriously overwritten the endless interior complaint and self-recrimination that Lily indulges in most of the time. However interesting the situation, the lack of compelling characters and even the least bit of humor makes reading this very long novel an exercise in patience. By the end of it, the reader is so tired of Lily’s company that the question of whether or not she will have her happy ending becomes moot.