Published by St. Martin's Griffin, Thomas Dunne Books on January 19, 2016
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St. Petersburg, 1911: Inna Feldman has fled the pogroms of the south to take refuge with distant relatives in Russia's capital city. Welcomed by the flamboyant Leman family, she is apprenticed into their violin-making workshop. She feels instantly at home in their bohemian circle, but revolution is in the air, and as society begins to fracture, she is forced to choose between her heart and her head. She loves her brooding cousin, Yasha, but he is wild, destructive and devoted to revolution; Horace Wallick, an Englishman who makes precious Faberge creations, is older and promises security and respectability. And, like many others, she is drawn to the mysterious, charismatic figure beginning to make a name for himself in the city: Rasputin.
As the rebellion descends into anarchy and bloodshed, a commission to repair a priceless Stradivarius violin offers Inna a means of escape. But which man will she choose to take with her? And is it already too late? A magical and passionate story steeped in history and intrigue, Midnight in St. Petersburg is an extraordinary novel of music, politics, and the toll that revolution exacts on the human heart.
“Bennett’s sophisticated grasp of historical realities and psychological complexity gives power and depth to what might easily have been a clichéd romance.” – Sunday Times
First, let me help you set the mood before starting this sweeping story of revolution, music, and romance. Do yourself a favor and Spotify or buy Anna Netrebko’s Russian Album to steep this reading experience in even more magic. Netrebko brings such rich, velvety tones and mastery of subject matter to the Russian arias on the album, reflecting the same qualities in Vanora Bennett’s novel.
Fans of Doctor Zhivago, both the novel and film adaptations, will love Midnight in St. Petersburg. Midnight in St. Petersburg unfolds at a similar pace to Zhivago and addresses a lot of the same emotional and psychological complexities that drive and sustain people during turbulent times. Fans of classics such as Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, etc. will enjoy the intricacy of thoughts and subject matter in this third-person narrative.
The story explores the lives of those who are passively and actively experiencing the Russian Revolution making for a rich historical and psychological experience. I liked how the author delved into the circles of the artists and intellectuals of the time and how their roles contributed to the revolution.
The female protagonist at the center of the story, Inna, is a talented violinist who has to make her own luck until she enters the world of two men who help shape her destiny, both whom she becomes romantically ensnared with.
“Inna began with a quiet, disciplined G major scale, a fluid run of quavers from the bottom to the top of the violin and back […] Her playing got gradually louder over the next few scales, up through D to E-flat. She’s not joining in, he thought, with disappointment. She’s just drowning me out. Using music as a weapon. Making war.”
The three main characters were deep and represented three unique viewpoints on the Russian Revolution. Inna is a lovely combination of strength and vulnerability that made me immediately empathize and identify with her character.
I also enjoyed the perspective on Rasputin’s character throughout the story. Like many other Russian Historical Fiction novels I have read, Rasputin is cast in a sympathetic light and demystified at the same time.
The story world was lush and developed with loving attention to detail. After reading Midnight in St.Petersburg, I could not shake the impression it left on me and I wanted to continue the atmospheric experience by listening to some Tchaikovsky or watching a film based on Russian literature.
Here are some great films to watch after reading Midnight in St.Petersburg:
I love Russian history, music, literature, poetry, and films so this book was a real treat for me. Those who are interested in the people that made up Russia during the revolutionary period as much as the events that created it, will love this book.
Here’s a short and fun video on Russia that will help understand how the Russian people’s culture and identity has been shaped over the centuries:
If you liked J. Nell Patrick’s Tsarina, you will also enjoy the more dramatic Midnight in St. Petersburg.
And just for fun:
Here is a nice preview with Russian scenery of Netrebko’s Russian Album and following that video is the best of Shostakovich, a revolutionary era composer, for your listening pleasure: