The Bolshevik revolution is the backdrop for Enchantments, the latest novel by Kathryn Harrison. It is one of the most unique historical novels I have read recently. My knowledge of Tsar Nikolay and Tsarina Alexandra was fairly limited, but this book doesn’t play that up beyond the fact that their son, Prince Alyosha, has hemophilia. The political landscape is beautifully woven in and doesn’t threaten the story line which focuses primarily on Rasputin’s daughter Masha who is sent to live with the royal family after the passing of her father.
It is assumed (and hoped) that Masha has inherited some of her father’s healing powers and will be able to make a difference in the life of the young prince. Although she is not able to physically heal him, they develop a deep bond that allows the two of them to survive the day-to-day destruction of the Russian empire. I don’t want to be misleading – it is a tragic story as anyone who knows history can imagine – but the dialogue and the stories which Masha tells to the young prince, about her father and her own hopes and dreams, are captivating and filled with optimism despite the impending doom. Harrison has done a beautiful job of putting Masha in the spotlight and she is a believable and beautiful character who is wise beyond her years, yet still inexperienced in the ways of life. I had no idea that Rasputin had a daughter, yet after reading the book, I read Harrison’s Acknowledgements and was surprised to discover that not only did Rasputin have a daughter, but she had a career as a lion tamer which brought her to the United States. This extension of the details in the story intrigued me and I feel thrilled to now have some sense of who Masha truly might have been. I recommend this book for those of you who enjoy history, but appreciate a bit of creative license.