The Mirrored World, HarperCollins, 2012

The Mirrored World, HarperCollins, 2012

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An interview with Debra Dean, author of The Mirrored World. For more interviews and inspiration, please go to:

Photo by Chris Bell

Photo by Chris Bell

The Mirrored World

“With evocative, rich prose and deep emotional resonance, Debra Dean has once again drawn me into a world about which I know little—this time, the imagined history of Xenia of Saint Petersburg. With her new novel, The Mirrored World, Dean delivers a compelling and captivating story that touches the soul.” –Garth Stein, author of The Art of Racing in the Rain  

Xenia is a passionate and tender dreamer who falls in love with a dashing soldier in the Russian Imperial choir. Though they become devoted to each other, Xenia’s growing obsession with having a child overshadows their happiness, and the birth of their daughter leaves Xenia far from content. She is certain that tragedy will strike—a terrible prediction of things to come. Withdrawing into grief, she undergoes a profound transformation and begins giving away all of her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she vanishes. 

The bestselling author of The Madonnas of Leningrad returns with a breathtaking novel of love, madness, and devotion of eighteenth-century St. Petersburg. Debra Dean has re-imagined the life of one of Russia’s most beloved holy figures in her stunning new novel. Narrated from the point of view of her younger cousin Dasha, a devoted friend and companion, The Mirrored World follows Xenia and Dasha from their younger years in the lower nobility through the tragedy that transforms Xenia into a revered angel of mercy to the poor, and a controversial figure to the upper classes.   

Set against the unparalleled extravagance and artifice of the royal court, a world of ice palaces, Italian castrati and cross-dress masquerade balls, The Mirrored World is an exploration of the true costs of loving deeply. 

Praise for The Mirrored World

“Dean’s novel grows more profound and affecting with every page.”  Booklist

“In The Mirrored World, Dean takes the bare framework of an extraordinary life and weaves an absorbing and intimate story of devotion around it. Though the world she creates is harsh and cold at times, it is the warmth at its center — the power of love — that stays with you in the end.” The Miami Herald 

“In her excellent second novel, The Mirrored World, Debra Dean has composed a resonant and compelling tale from 18th-century Russia, based on the historically true story of Xenia, later Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg… 
…Dean's writing is superb; she uses imagery natural to the story and an earlier time. For example, the young Xenia and her chorister are so infatuated and oblivious to all around them that they "banked like billiard balls off the other dancers." Their conversations are "studied like egg whites" by their guardians… 
…Dean resurrects this beloved saint in Russian history who cared for the poor, juxtaposing the crudest poverty and extravagant displays of wealth in a mesmerizing, spare style. The gross social inequality is a vivid setting for the immanent love and poignant spirit of compassion in those who stay connected to the poor and the mad in ways that have social relevance today.” Seattle Times  
The Mirrored World presents a sharply imagined picture of 18th century St. Petersburg, brimming with authentic characters. It dramatizes Xenia's transformation from an attractive young woman to a "holy fool" in a way that respects religious traditions, but which should be also credible to a modern secular audience. The Sun-Sentinel 

“For those familiar with the story of St. Xenia, this is a gratifying take on a compelling woman. For others, Dean’s vivid prose and deft pacing make for a quick and entertaining read.”  Publishers Weekly 

 “Transporting readers to St. Petersburg during the reign of Catherine the Great, Dean brilliantly reconstructs and reimagines the life of St. Xenia, one of Russia’s most revered and mysterious holy figures, in a richly told and thought-provoking work of historical fiction that recounts the unlikely transformation of a young girl, a child of privilege, into a saint beloved by the poor.”   Book Reporter 

 “Dean's characters have a lovely crystalline, fragile depth. When they shatter, the shards fall into our contemporary lives. Writing about a visionary takes the level of prose skill that Dean demonstrates again and again. She skirts the lovely surface even as she reveals the shadows that dwell deep within her characters. There is magic in this world, in these words. It is the power of the human story, of narrative as life, burning brightly with a fearful symmetry.” 

 “The Mirrored World is a poignant portrayal of love, caring and of madness in a world where extreme wealth and abject poverty were the norms.  Majestic in its scope, the book is elegantly penned and richly fashioned. . . . graceful, stylish and nearly impossible to put down.” WCGU-FM