This book sets the stage for the next book, a clever idea. In The Winter Palace we read about what went on before the relatively obscure German princeThis book sets the stage for the next book, a clever idea. In The Winter Palace we read about what went on before the relatively obscure German princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg transformed herself into the empress Catherine the Great.
I found it quite an intense story about what, we would call today, an abusive and toxic environment and women who found themselves living inside it. Sophie and everybody else is placed under the tyranny of empress Elizabeth, who is a cruel self centered ruler. Everybody is forced to live a double life, one in public and quite another one clandestinely. This type of living under constant terror is shared by the main protagonist of the story, fictional Barbara (in Polish) or Varvara (in Russian), who finds herself an orphan, a foreigner at the Russian court at the mercy of the empress Elizabeth. Both Sophie and Barbara become friends, or so it seems. Both have to deny or cover up their true feelings, have to make alliances and rid themselves of any scruples in order to survive.
The fictional main character is very skillfully placed within the historical context making the story interesting as well as educational. It's the best way to learn history, through the eyes of a very credible and very sympathetic character. I love reading about the minuscule details, descriptions of everyday life, food, fashion, occupations, behaviour of the protagonists, coming into close contact with the reality of Russia of the eighteen century.
The book is essentially dedicated to the seventeen years during which Sophie waited and learnt all she could in order to prepare herself for taking the throne. She also endured tremendous hardship in her personal life, having everybody who she loved taken away from her. She knew that her fortune depended completely on her strenght and proceeded with the iron will to will what she wanted. ...more
I have recently re-read the Cancer Ward not knowing what to expect as I read it such a loooong time ago. And I'd love to say that it is a great read,I have recently re-read the Cancer Ward not knowing what to expect as I read it such a loooong time ago. And I'd love to say that it is a great read, still. It's one of those books that people claim to know for sure what it is about. And yes, it's about the Soviet era and the grim realities of those fifties under communism, yes, it is about this horrible illness and the hospital scene, and yes it is about humans facing death. But it is also and I think primarily about life. It is about how to live life. One of the main characters poses the following question to his fellow patients: "what is the most important thing in life?" And the novel tries to hint at some answers. I found it very life affirming and a wonderful read. Highly recommended....more