Tag Archives: Russia

The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul

Headline Review | 2018 (18 October) | 456p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Lost Daughter by Gill PaulWhen the Romanovs, the overthrown ruling family of Russia, arrived in Ekaterinburg in 1918 they could have had no idea that this would be their final prison, that there could be no escape. At least, not for all. Maria Romanov, one of the Grand Duchesses, drew people to her with her naturally friendly nature. While this could lead to grief, it could also lead to love and to salvation. More than one of the guards fell for Maria but one in particular risked his life for her. This is the story of what might have been.

This isn’t the first time that Gill Paul has written a novel about the Romanovs. In the wonderful The Secret Wife, the life of another of the daughters, Tatiana, was reimagined. Now, in the centenary of their murder, the author turns to her sister Maria, giving her another chance of life. Events from the earlier novel are referred to here so it exists in the same historical universe. It adds another poignancy as Maria ceaselessly wonders what happened to Tatiana.

The Lost Daughter is an enchanting novel, quite melancholic at times, and extremely hard to put down. Maria is brought to life so beautifully. We live years of her life with her as she endures so much, her memories of her grand childhood growing ever fainter as she must deal with the reality of living in a Russia that wanted her dead and killed her family. But, as the years pass, things don’t get easier as the novel takes us through decades of Russian history, through the poverty and hardship of Lenin’s rule, through the terror of Stalin, and through the misery of the Second World War – the Siege of Leningrad forms a central part of the novel and it was this section that kept me up until so late into the night. It is utterly compelling.

As with The Secret Wife, there is a parallel story going on here. In this strand, we follow Val, an Australian woman living in Sydney who has an elderly, bitter, haunted Russian father. Val’s own life is difficult. She has an abusive husband. Her mother was driven away by her father. But now Val is breaking free and to do that she must understand her origins and what it is that tormented her father on his deathbed. It will lead her on a fascinating pilgrimage to the Soviet Union.

I must admit that I didn’t find the early chapters in Val’s life easy to read. Domestic violence is a subject I prefer to avoid in fiction but, once that section was past, I became thoroughly involved in Val’s tale. The chapters covering Maria’s life were the most engrossing – and how could they not be? What a story! – but I became increasingly intrigued by Val’s role in the novel, especially towards the end when everything comes together in such an emotionally charged and perfect way.

The Secret Wife is so steeped in 20th-century Russian history, mainly focusing on St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it became. I’ve visited the city several times (when it was Leningrad), including the mass graves from the Siege, and I think that Gill Paul captures its spirit – resilience, fortitude and suffering. I found it really emotional. But the novel also has the feel of a saga. Several generations are covered as Maria’s family grows and each must face their own challenges while finding their own peace and love. The role of the family is central to this book, especially the relationship between parents and children. Maria has lost so much and yet she has so much to give. I wept for her, and with her, more than once. Maria is the perfect subject for this gorgeously written, emotional, glorious, sweeping tale of tragedy, survival and Soviet Russia.

Other reviews and features
Guest post: Gill Paul, author of No Place for a Lady, ‘on feminism, bereavement and squeamishness’
The Secret Wife
Another Woman’s Husband
Guest post: ‘Historical Sources for Another Woman’s Husband

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The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

The Secret Wife | Gill Paul | 2016 (25 August) | Avon | 404p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Secret Wife by Gill PaulIn 1914, not long after the start of World War I, cavalry officer Dimitri Malama is injured on the Russian-German front. He is sent to a hospital close to St Petersburg to recover, but this is no ordinary hospital. The rooms of the summer palace of the Tsars, the Catherine Palace, have been converted into wards for officers and one of Dimitri’s nurses is Nurse Romanov Three, otherwise known as Her Imperial Highness, Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. Tatiana is no stranger to Dimitri. He is of aristocratic birth and before the war he had been one of the royal family’s imperial guard, keeping a respectful distance. But these new circumstances change everything and Tatiana and Dimtri fall in love.

From that moment on, everything changes for Dimitri. Through war and revolution, Dimitri will do all he can to love and protect Tatiana as her status is reduced radically from princess to prisoner, the threat against the imperial family increasing almost daily as they are moved around this immense nation, the chains tightening little by little.

In the present day, Kitty Fisher escapes a personal crisis in London by fleeing to a remote cabin in the Lake Akanabee, New York State, which had been left to her by a great grandfather she had never known. His only surviving relation, she becomes absorbed by his story, especially after she finds a valuable and tantalising piece of jewellery lost beneath the cabin’s front steps.

The Secret Wife moves between the stories of Dimitri and Kitty, both of which illuminate this great love of Dimitri’s life, a love that haunted his entire existence. It’s not difficult to understand why Kitty should become so consumed by it because this novel absolutely enthralled this reader at least with its emotional and powerful story of love and loss.

The tragic story of the Tsar and his family is well-known but its power to shock, as well as fascinate, continues and Gill Paul makes excellent use of her sources to present the full horror of events, while still reminding us, albeit gently, of the appalling conditions faced by ordinary Russians (and Russian soldiers) under Romanov rule. But the emphasis throughout is on the love affair between Dimitri and Tatiana, mostly focusing on Dimitri as he is forced to make choices that he knows he may live to regret. At times Dimitri is ruthless, knowingly so, in direct contrast to the purity of his love, and there are a few moments that demonstrate that there is nothing he won’t do for Tatiana.

We know Tatiana relatively little but Dimitri is not always an easy man to like. But he doesn’t want to be liked. He wants to save Tatiana and her family. Gill Paul cleverly, without filter, shows the results of this tunnel vision on the lives and feelings of the people around Dimitri.

I was completely engrossed in The Secret Wife, as a thoroughly entertaining historical novel and for its love story. There are so many emotions on display here and it’s hard not to be moved as history overtakes love. The book skilfully combines fact with fiction. I didn’t fall for Kitty Fisher’s story particularly but it played a relatively minor part in the novel’s structure and worked well as a device to bring the story up to the present day. It was the story of Tatiana and Dimitri that captivated me and ensured that I finished the novel in one glorious day’s reading.

Other post
Guest post – Gill Paul, author of No Place for a Lady, ‘on feminism, bereavement and squeamishness’