history

2. 20th Century Classic: The Leopard

It had been around ten years since I last read this.  I remembered it was good but remembered hardly anything about it.  I’d been craving a re-read for awhile.

Like Henry Esmond, The Leopard is historical fiction, set well before the time it was written.  Giuseppe di Lampedusa based this, his only novel, on the life of his great-grandfather.  The author’s biography at the end of the book says that he contemplated writing such a book for twenty-five years and only started writing when he was sixty.  He did not live to see it published.  His novel is the fruit of a lifetime lived with books and in conversation about books: a single fruit — round, mellow, perfect, exquisite, and complex.  And, in the end, surprisingly bitter.  It is at once a first novel, charged with beginner’s energy and luck, and the work of a mature talent writing at the height of his powers.
It was as good as, and better than, I remembered.  It evoked Italy so powerfully, and even Sicily, which I’ve never visited, with its glaring sun and slow-moving but dangerous people.  It exposes a heart of darkness in a fiercely traditional society, in which true religion has been eaten away, leaving only its vulnerable outer forms.  It reveals the mean and cowardly spirit that animates the flashy revolution.  In the end, it is full of unbearable regret for something ineffable that might have been.
It is lyrical, sumptuous, and subtle, with a persistent edge of humor and bathos.  I defy anyone to read the chapter where lovers play hide and seek in the labyrinth of a decaying summer palace without at least a moment’s shiver of delight.
– Mrs. Aldertree
Mrs. Aldertree’s full “back to the Classics” challenge list can be found here 
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The Romanov Sisters

The bulk of my personal reading time last month went to a book about Russian history: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. I’ve been wanting to read more history for awhile — and failing to. This book however has the pace and human interest of a novel. One of Rappaport’s stated goals was to bring the characters of the four daughters of the last Imperial family of Russia out of their brother’s shadow and into clear focus. She sought to extricate them as individuals from the family group and from “hagiography” that erases human vividness. To do this, she drew richly on personal letters and diaries. In the process, she also gives a wonderfully sharp portrait of their parents — and their brother too. (For me, in many ways, he even remained the most compelling character among a cast of characters each thoroughly compelling.)

I fell completely in love with the entire family. Rappaport struck me as more critical of Alexandra, the mother, than of the others, but I found her intensely sympathetic and the criticisms, one and all, beside the point.

The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the whole family. One can look at that with skepticism but I was convinced, by this deliberately non-hagiographic account, of their real sanctity. They were spiritual relatives of the Martin family (what might have happened if Louis Martin had been on earth the King he was in his daughter’s eyes). And the only possible consolation for the wrongness of their murders will be to see them reign with Jesus King of Kings forever.

Mrs. Aldertree