Monday, December 26, 2016

The Imperial Wife: Catherine the Great

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By Michelle Ule

Catherine the Great comes alive in this fabulous historical and present day novel by Irina Reyn: The Imperial Wife.

As a long-time Russophile, I picked up this novel by Irina Reyn out of curiosity.

Catherine the Great has never been one of my favorites--she was a focused and ribald ruler during despotic times.

But Reyn's novel brought Catherine to life in a sympathetic fashion that made me consider her from a different angle. I liked it very much.

Past and Present in parallel

This is not a time travel story--it's a parallel tale of two women torn from their homeland and required to make gutsy decisions in a world that isn't quite their own.

Catherine's 18th century story mirrors that of Tanya's present day experience in the rarified Russian art world of New York City.

They're both confused in love, tantalized by beautiful works of art and the mind and responding to powerful forces.

I learned far more about the Russian oligarchs now dominating the international art market then I ever imagined.

Reyn has done an excellent job of conveying the high-stakes world in which both Catherine and Tanya risked everything for success.

And there's a fascinating twist--somewhere in the story--that caught me surprise and threw the whole book into a different realm of parable.

I loved it.

And I didn't put it all together until the final page.

Replica of Catherine II's wedding dress (1745) by MKhT school-studio 05 by shakko
This sash--the Order of St. Catherine,
plays a major role in the story.

Catherine the Great and Tanya 

Catherine comes off as a far more sympathetic character than I've ever given her credit.

Her young life had several disappointments that made her into the empress she became. (Which is where Reyn ends her story).

Reyn does a fine job of helping us see why Catherine made her choices.

We see what life was like in that long ago period when Peter the Great's grandson became the tsar and was not up to the task.

Catherine had to seize power for the sake of Russia--right?

In Tanya's case, she too, seized power of a different sort and may--or may not--have ruined her personal happiness as a result.

Her dealings with the Russian art world fascinated when they didn't appall.

I learned so very much in such an enjoyable fashion.

The Imperial Wife--does that refer to Catherine the Great or Tanya herself?--is a terrific historical novel.


The Imperial Wife--Catherine the Great, art and NYC. Click to Tweet

Historical and present day fiction at its finest: The Imperial Wife. Click to Tweet

Best-selling novelist Michelle Ule writes historical fiction and now, a biography of Mrs. Oswald Chambers (Baker, October 2017). Find out more about her and her love of Russian history at

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