Frequently Auto-Approved
Reviews Published Challenge Participant

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Red Princess: A Revolutionary Life by Sofka Zinovieff

One of Sofka Zinovieff's ancestors was wheeled in to her trial at the hands of a revolutionary tribunal. She told them about her court positions and the contributions that she'd made to public life - orphanages, libraries, dowries, and other charitable works. Then she said: "And now let me tell you who you are. You are murderers and assassins, cut-throats and rebels, tyrants, robbers, scoundrels..."
Her cause of death was supposed to be a heart attack, but the story goes that she was shot immediately.

Sofka Dolgorouky was not that ancestor, but she was just as interesting. This grandmother of the authors was hated by many of Zinovieff's relations because of her scandalous life and her taking to Communism. This is perfectly understandable because of the suffering and tyranny the Russian aristocracy endured at the hands of the Communists, of course.

It is with some trepidation that Zinovieff sets out to uncover her story, especially when her uncle tells her that promiscuity is in the blood because of Catherine the Great! But she unfolds the fascinating truth about her grandmother in a very enjoyable book - although it is sometimes harrowing.

I can't say much more without telling the story, but I can say that I totally disagree with Dolgorouky's politics but Zinovieff does make her grandmother's point of view understandable.

Anyone with a liking for Russian history or biography will enjoy this book.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some Other Books

Two books that I've also read lately are The Seven Ages of Paris by Alastair Horne and Turner's Paintbox by Lloyd Jones.

The Seven Ages of Paris was much more interesting than most history books and covers much Parisian culture as well as successive kings and queens and governments. Horne tends to be rather idiosyncratic and devoted many pages to eras that he liked while practically dismissing the French Revolution. I found this a bit odd but I'd like to read some of his other books.

Turner's Paintbox was a luminous book - a sensitive and moving love story. It charts the progress of a love affair and combines this with the story of the great painter, Turner. I actually cried at the end of this book - but I'm not going to say whether this was because the ending was sad or happy.

Like most Australians I am attracted to Turner's paintings (even after a very boring tour at the Tate) and this book made me more interested in his art and his life.

A Strong-Minded Empress: Imperial Highness by Evelyn Anthony

Evelyn Anthony's writing runs rings around most of the modern historical writers such as Philippa Gregory. She doesn't resort to tricks like including steamy scenes in the first few pages or using grating modern language. The quality of her writing speaks for itself.

This is about the young Catherine the Great of Russia. Dragged from her remote German principality almost in the middle of the night, Catherine has a clear idea of her destiny almost from the beginning. This novel portrays her as an extremely strong-minded girl who faces her many problems - a mad husband, a drunken Empress, and a dominating mother - with dignity and determination.

The character of Peter, Catherine's husband, would have been difficult to write but Anthony never shows it as laughable. The strange Empress, Elizabeth, is also written reasonably sympathetically.

Catherine's character shines in this book and her progress towards her final destiny becomes quite exciting as she fights her husband and the mercurial Empress, who imprisons her for seven years, to obtain her ultimate goal.

It is also a romantic novel which relates the beauty and suffering of a teenage girl's first love.

This book made me much more interested in reading about Catherine the Great.