The critically acclaimed author of The Madonnas of Leningrad (“Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share” —Isabel Allende), Debra Dean returns with The Mirrored World, a breathtaking novel of love and madness set in 18th century Russia. Transporting readers to St. Petersburg during the reign of Catherine the Great, Dean brilliantly reconstructs and reimagines the life of St. Xenia, one of Russia’s most revered and mysterious holy figures, in a richly told and thought-provoking work of historical fiction that recounts the unlikely transformation of a young girl, a child of privilege, into a saint beloved by the poor.
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.