REVIEW of The Lost Season of Love and Snow, by Jennifer Laam

PushkinThe Lost Season of Love and Snow tells the story of the Natalya, the wife of Russia’s most famous poet Alexander Pushkin. Courted by Pushkin at the young age of sixteen, the beautiful Natalya falls head over heels for him and becomes Madame Pushkina. Like most writers, Alexander struggles to make ends meet, and even though fame attends him, finances suffer. Natalya tries to assist her husband by transcribing his writing into clean manuscripts, and even though the newlyweds are poor (by rich people standards), they are happy.

After a few years go by and a few children enter the picture, Alexander goes away for a writing retreat of sorts. He urges his wife to enjoy society in his absence and flirt with all her admirers as is the fashion. Natalya gets a taste for court parties and balls, impressing the lecherous tsar with her daring decolletage and coquetting her way around St. Petersburg. When Alexander returns, he becomes increasingly disturbed that he is the Vulcan to her Venus (the ugly misshapen blacksmith married to the goddess of love). Matters come to a head when Natalya is unable to successfully end a flirtation with the tall, blond Georges d’Anthes, and Alexander’s jealousy leads him to the end we knew must come.

I really enjoyed the way the author used Natalya’s weak eyesight and need for glasses as a symbol for her life. In the beginning, her mother forbade her to wear her eyeglasses in public since beauty was more important than the ability to see across the room. Later, we see Natalya imposing that same restriction on herself, caring more about appearance than perspective. And in the end it is her lack of perspective, her lack of understanding of how society would perceive her actions that contributes to the great tragedy of her life.

History has blamed Natalya’s flighty and foolish actions for her husband Pushkin’s early demise. This book tries to “tell Natalya’s side of the story.” Written in first person, we can see the author’s conjecture for how Natalya was motivated as she navigated the perilous world of the Russian court.

It seemed like the author felt obliged by historical fact to state Natalya’s words and actions as documented by source material, and then to create internal excuses to try to redeem her in the readers’ eyes–

  • She was flustered when she said that–it just didn’t come out right…
  • She was flirting, but hasn’t everybody at some point?…
  • She actually had the best intentions when she did that, but circumstances were against her…
  • She was lusting after someone not her husband, but she really loved Alexander the whole time…
  • And it is a truth universally acknowledged that the world is rigged against women!

Frankly, a lot of Natalya’s self-justifying narration seemed pretty weak. I wondered if perhaps the author was trying to make us see Natalya as self-deluded in the matter (which would have been an interesting narrative approach!), although when I reached the Author’s Note, I saw that was not the case.

One great thing about the novel is that it raised a lot of questions for me about the real Natalya: did she actually write poetry herself and never show it to her husband? Is there any evidence of a feminist perspective on her part, or is that a modern notion imposed by the author on the story? What was the relationship between Pushkin and Tolstoy? And the biggest question of all: what does the title of the book actually refer to?

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

 

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