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.