Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Lost Season of Love & Snow ~ Jennifer Laam (erac) review [@jenlaam @StMartinsPress]

The Lost Season of Love and Snow
St Martin's Griffin
January 02, 2018
352 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depository/or Amazon

The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.

At the age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. But while she finds joy in French translations and a history of Russian poetry, her family is more concerned with her marriage prospects. It is only fitting that during the Christmas of 1828 at her first public ball in her hometown of Moscow she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin.

Enchanted at first sight, Natalya is already a devoted reader of Alexander’s serialized novel in verse, Evgeny Onegin. The most recently published chapter ends in a duel, and she is dying to learn what happens next. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya hopes to see him again as soon as possible.

What follows is a courtship and later marriage full of equal parts passion and domestic bliss but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads to Alexander dying from injuries earned defending his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, Natalya finds herself reviled for her alleged role in his death.

With beautiful writing and understanding, Jennifer Laam, and her compelling new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, help Natalya tell her side of the story—the story of her greatest love and her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court.

The Lost Season of Love and Snow proved to not only be an enjoyable novel but also a wonderful discovery of both a time period and people I knew very little about. Most of what I have read - both fiction and nonfiction - set in Russia took place about a century after Natalya's story. In the early nineteenth century, there was still fear of the  Tsar but so, at least among Natalya and her family's social circles, of appearing seditious.

I did not already know really anything about Pushkin, so seeing him through Natalya's eyes as well as through her family's and society's was both informative and intriguing. The author does a great job with Natalya's character and showing us how much stock is put in her beauty and how much it's depended upon to help her family's future. We also see how Natalya would rather be valued for her mind than her face.

This makes her courtship with Alexander Pushkin both that much more believeable and that much sweeter. I appreciated that the author seemed to hold to what would have been historically relevant - both Pushikin's past associations and his future income potential.

I also loved that we got what seemed like a very real glimpse into society at that time: the balls, the relationships, the Tsar's influence and presence, etc. We see how much of the upper class spoke French (which, side note, I still think the articles in French vs Russian would be tricky) and how flirting (or coquette) was so commonplace. All of this: the balls, playing the coquette, Pushkin's past, his current/future writings, and how women were viewed at the time are crucial parts of Alexander and Natalya's story.

Author Jennifer Laam does a brilliant job giving us a story that is true to it's historical setting and that mindset while viewing her characters (particularly Natalya)  and their words and actions with a modern eye. It was truly a pleasure to discover more about Russia in the nineteenth century and Alexander Pushikin but even more so his romance with Natalya, their life together, and how the time viewed her and where or how that might not be accurate. I really look forward to reading more of Laam's work.

digital review copy received from publisher via NetGalley

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