Friday, August 9, 2013

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean (Giveaway Included)

Synopsis From Dust Jacket: 

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.

Most of you already know that I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, with few exceptions, I normally can't connect with the approach the author chooses to take with the subject.  So you may be surprised to see that I agreed to review The Mirrored World by Debra Dean.  If I don't like historical fiction, why choose a historical fiction book to review.  My friends, that's a good question.  So let me try to explain it to you.

Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by the men and women who have been so revered, that they are called saints.  I was intrigued by the happenstances and situations that could place someone in a position to be considered a actual saint, anointed by God to do good works on Earth.  Whether they came from the Roman Catholic tradition or not, saints have always fascinated me.  St. Xenia is from the Russian Orthodox tradition, and while I had never heard of her before this, I was hooked on the synopsis.  I was ready to delve into her life and find out, even if it's only a fictional account, what happened in her life to lead her down the road to sainthood.

So now, I get to explain why this book was no different than almost every other historical fiction book I've read.  I was wanting to learn about St. Xenia, her life and her beliefs.  Instead I got a puff piece told from the viewpoint of a cousin who shared Xenia's life from childhood to old age.  And when I say share, I really mean they were around each other all the time until Xenia went out on her own.  After that we only glimpse Xenia when the two come together again, often times years go between those meetings.  I didn't get to see Xenia at work in the slums, except through the cousin's eyes, and that was just a little glimpse.  I didn't get, from Xenia's viewpoint, why she took this path or what she was personally feeling at the time.  Everything I learned about Xenia is secondhand knowledge.

Now I know The Mirrored World is historical fiction, not a history book.  I get it.  If I really want to learn about St. Xenia, I should read nonfiction books about her life.  I shouldn't rely on a fiction book to sate my curiosity.  But is it wrong to expect more from a fictional account of a real person's life?  Shouldn't the subject of such a book get to tell her own story, instead of it being told from the viewpoint of someone else, someone who isn't around for much of her life?  I get that an author has the prerogative to tell a story from any viewpoint they want, and honestly, the writing was quite good.  It was a well crafted exploration, and I'm glad I read it.  I just wish, like I do so many times when I read historical fiction, that there was more meat on the bones.

I would like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book.  Please visit the tour page to read other reviews.

The wonderful group at TLC Book Tours have generously offered my readers the chance to win a copy of this book for themselves.  The giveaway will last until 11:59 pm, CST, on 8/19/13.  You must be a resident of the United States to enter, and all you have to do is leave me a comment with your email address.  


bermudaonion said...

I'm not much of a historical fiction fan either so I think I'll skip this one. No need to enter me.

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Darn, I'm sorry this book didn't convince you that historical fiction is a good fit for you, but thanks for giving it a try for the tour!

Anonymous said...

wow, it seems to me you are a bit too severe about this book, though I'm glad you do recognize there's some good writing in it. I'm actually an Orthodox Christian myself, and have read a lot on Patristics/spirituality/history,and lives of the saints. If you did try as you say to find some information on Saint Xenia you will have discovered that basically we know about almost nothing on her.
She is considered a "fool for Christ". I thought it was very smart actually for the author to connect this with her extreme grief on her beloved's death, and to translate her emotional dis-balance by having someone else speak about her or for her, as she had lost her self to the world.
Also I think that was very courageous to tackle such a topic - there are definitely not too many HF on Orthodox Saints.
As for another saint, have you read Illuminations? it's on Hildegarde of Bingen, published also recently, maybe you would enjoy much more; we know tons on Hildegarde and the author 9Mary Sharratt) did a great integration of the sources in her novel, I think
Thanks anyway for the opportunity to win this book, I know lots of Orthodox friends of mine who would appreciate it.
Words And Peace
ehc16e at yahoo dot com

traveler said...

I am captivated with this novel which interests me greatly. Thanks. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

petite said...

I enjoyed this post and the background about this book. It would be fascinating to read this at my leisure. Many thanks. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

Anita Yancey said...

I really enjoy reading historical fiction. This book sounds really good and interesting, but also a little strange. Thanks for this chance.


Bookfool said...

I think you did a much better job of reviewing this one than I did. I loved the author's previous book and that's why I jumped at a chance to read her new one. But, it was extremely disappointing. I was so lost, most of the way through the book, that it didn't even occur to me that the choice to portray her through her cousin's eyes made the story unnecessarily distant. It doesn't matter that little is known about St. Xenia -- it's fiction, after all. She could have just created a life using the few known fact. I agree; it could have been a much better book if the focus had been through Xenia's eyes rather than a cousin's.

Michelle Stockard Miller said...

Darn! I missed the giveaway. =O(

You know I really love historical fiction and I think that one of the genre's important roles is to get people interested in historical figures/topics who may not have otherwise ever been interested. This is the first time I've heard of Xenia and I think I will have to watch for this book. Nice objective review, Ryan.