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Diverting, if not enchanting

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Author: Kathryn Harrison

Writing a novel that touches on any aspect of the Romanovs' story must be a daunting challenge for an author.  Nicholas and Alexandra and Anastasia offer such entrancing glimpses into a lost world.  With ornate settings, tragedy of such unfathomable intensity, and real characters more eccentric and complex than anyone could imagine, stories of the Romanovs compel and captivate.  

Unlike, for example, Hilary Mantel's achievements in Wolf Hall, this novel did little to infuse new meaning or interest into these historical stories and their previous fictional incarnations.  

Rasputin's daughter (Masha) is an insightful narrator whose perspective does allow Harrison to illuminate the edges of the Romanovs' story, but I think Harrison fails to really utilize this approach to its fullest advanatage.

Harrison does interweave several narratives rather than following a single, linear story line: Rasputin, Alyosha, Masha, the Romanov sisters (treated as a single unit), and Alexandra all have stories that she tells (or that Masha tells to Alyosha, which adds the most compelling element of the novel--its investment in the process of fiction making).  

And Masha's interest in performance, especially her ultimate role as a circus performer, becomes a literalization of the metaphor for the large-scale circus-y aspects of the story, but by and large this is a fairly disappointing variation on a story that has been told before.  

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