The Impe­r­i­al Wife

  • Review
By – May 3, 2016

Russ­ian-born Amer­i­can author Iri­na Reyn intro­duces two Russ­ian women liv­ing more than 250 years apart who are curi­ous­ly con­nect­ed by cul­ture, intel­lect, and enor­mous ambi­tion. Glid­ing seam­less­ly in and out of their respec­tive cen­turies, The Impe­r­i­al Wife is an his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate, dra­mat­ic, and provoca­tive jour­ney of a novel.

Tanya Kagan Van­der­mot­ter is a Russ­ian Jew­ish immi­grant liv­ing in Amer­i­ca of the present day. She is a ris­ing star in the auc­tion world, recent­ly ele­vat­ed to recog­ni­tion via her out­stand­ing abil­i­ty to cer­ti­fy authen­tic Russ­ian art. To the media, she describes her­self as a sim­ple girl from Moscow.” In real­i­ty, Tanya is quite design­ing in her strat­e­gy to cul­ti­vate buy­ers who will then send the mas­ter­works back to Rus­sia, their his­toric home. Poised to climb high­er on the lad­der, she is inspired by mem­o­ries of life as a young immi­grant, her cul­tur­al and reli­gious her­itage, her desire to please her aging par­ents, and her aspi­ra­tion to bal­ance it all as an authen­tic” Amer­i­can — an achieve­ment she believes, or wish­es, can be attained through her mar­riage into the Van­der­mot­ter family.

Cather­ine the Great, born Sophie Fred­er­ic­ka Augus­ta, is brought from Prus­sia to St. Peters­berg. At fif­teen, she has been cho­sen to mar­ry the grand­son of Peter the Great, des­ig­nat­ed heir to the Russ­ian throne. One night, while trav­el­ing to the Russ­ian court, she sees the head of The Great Comet of 1744, and orders the pro­ces­sion to stop. Look­ing up at the incred­i­ble sight, she thinks the view exists for her ben­e­fit alone, a pri­vate per­for­mance medi­at­ed by God. The comet is me… Nature sends signs to the cho­sen ones.” Cather­ine pre­pares for her ascent. Once in Rus­sia, she stud­ies and manip­u­lates the court, even­tu­al­ly tak­ing the throne in a swift, vio­lent move as notable as that cos­mic event.

Just as Tanya’s Russ­ian art auc­tion is releas­ing its catalogue,Tanya is alert­ed that an aston­ish­ing arti­fact, a medal­lion of the Order of Saint Cather­ine, has come onto the mar­ket. Leg­end has it that the Order was gift­ed dur­ing the Impe­r­i­al era to those who Peter the Great orig­i­nal­ly referred to as extra­or­di­nary per­sons of the fem­i­nine sex,” award­ed to young Cather­ine upon the announce­ment of her engage­ment. The mag­nif­i­cent jew­el quick­ly estab­lish­es itself as the uni­fy­ing motif in the nar­ra­tive, sym­bol­iz­ing both the ammu­ni­tion for the ambi­tious female char­ac­ters and the deep threat that pos­es to the men in their lives.

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

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