Christina (A Reader of Fictions)'s Reviews > The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
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's review
Jan 07, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: netgalley

Brief Summary:
Barbara is Polish, daughter of a bookbinder who moved the family to St. Petersburg for work. Before his death, her father asks a request of Empress Elizabeth, for whom he once excellently repaired a book: that she watch out for his daughter. This earns Barbara, or Varvara in Russian, a place working in the winter palace. She works, for a time, with the seamstresses, something for which she has no talent. Then, because of her own intelligence and her desperation to do something better, she becomes a tongue, a spy for the empress. In the process, she befriends, as dangerous as such a concept is in the world of politics, Sophie, a young German, who will later become Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia.

What a completely beautiful and tragic book. I was hooked from the first page. Barbara has such a realistic and strong voice. Plus, I really love reading about Russia, which has always fascinated me for some reason, although I really could not say why.

Most little girls really want to be princesses at one point or another, and, although it wasn't my biggest dream, I certainly went through phases where I thought it would be awesome. After reading this, imagine me stomping those dreams down, because, good lord, I do not want to go through any of that business. All the spying, the court politics, the hypocrisy and the paranoia (is there a word for paranoia when it's completely justified?) would either drive you insane or turn you into a total bitch.

Speaking of, it is entirely terrifying to me that rulers managed to maintain for dominion when so many of them were so awful. Elizabeth does not seem to actually do much of anything but sleep with her guards and spend money on shiny new things for herself, even when Russia is in the midst of a war and does not have enough guns or food for the soldiers. Peter, the Grand Duke, clearly has some sort of mental deficiencies going on and yet is considered a candidate for the throne. How did such governmental systems last for so long?

The history herein is entirely fascinating, and I definitely felt everything along with Barbara. I loved how she did the best she could in every situation, and did it decisively. When she couldn't fight, she went along with things, like her marriage. And, in the end, she made that into a positive.

If you like historical fiction and have been disappointed by the quality of some of the books out there, read this one without worrying. I promise it's good!
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