The bestselling author of The Madonnas of Leningrad returns with a breathtaking novel of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagant royal court of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg. Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia, an eccentric dreamer who cares little for social conventions, falls in love with Andrei, a charismatic soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Though husband and wife adore each other, their happiness is overshadowed by the absurd demands of life at the royal court and by Xenia's growing obsession with having a child-a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of her daughter. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes. Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and a blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and its new Empress, Catherine, who perceives her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses. In this evocative and elegantly written tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures. This is an exploration of the blessings of loyal friendship, the limits of reason, and the true costs of loving deeply.
In her second novel (after The Madonnas of Leningrad), Dean returns to Russia to reimagine the intriguing life story of St. Xenia, as seen through the eyes of the fictional narrator, Dashenka. A terrible fire in 1736 in St. Petersburg forces a young Xenia; her sister, Nadya; and their mother to seek refuge in Dasha's childhood home. The girls grow up together and are ushered into society the same year. Soon after, Xenia falls in love with Col. Andrei Petrov and the two wed. Dasha is not so lucky, but is kindly welcomed into Xenia's house, where she witnesses Xenia unravel, first over her difficulty in conceiving, then the deaths of her only baby and husband. When an unstable Xenia begins to relinquish her worldly possessions, Dasha becomes concerned, and Xenia suddenly disappears, only to resurface years later as a saint to the poor-much to the chagrin of the royals. For those familiar with the story of St. Xenia, this is a gratifying take on a compelling woman. For others, Dean's vivid prose and deft pacing make for a quick and entertaining read. Agent: Marly Rusoff. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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August 27, 2012
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