Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

I did take a class in Imperial Russian History in college, but I do not remember learning about Catherine I of Russia before, the first Tsarina of that country. Previously, in fact during the childhood of her husband Peter the Great, there had been women ruling as Regent, but Catherine I wasn't regent--she was full-on Tsarina in her own right, paving a path that would lead to Catherine the Great.

Marta grew up incredibly poor in the countryside, her family were serfs. As a teen, she was sold to a wealthy merchant as a house servant. After a rape, she killed him and escaped. She made it to a nearby town where she was nearly sold to a whorehouse, but she escaped yet again, and was found by a local minister's family who took her in (this is where the real history begins. To Ms. Alpsten's credit, I noticed no real shift in the writing and in fact, I had no idea what was fictional and what was historical until the author's note at the end.) I did start to wonder when she was ever going to get around to meeting the Tsar, Peter the Great, but that's not due to any lag in the story. It is a long book, but it's a Russian novel! Of course it is! Would you trust a Russian novel of 250 pages? I think not!

And meet him she eventually does, winning him over not through any manipulations or machinations, but by being her true self, strong and brave and open. She becomes Tsaritsa Catherine, and her life is complicated, exciting, unnerving, more than a little crazy, and all her own. It's a fascinating story that's impossible to put down.

This book is published by St. Martin's Publishing Group, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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