Jennifer Laam’s “The Lost Season of Love and Snow” is a surprising book in many ways, and yet a comforting book in so many others – and those are often the important ones. If you’re wavering between picking this up or giving it a chance…our vote is for the former.
I love to read, and I am unapologetically a fan of romances and a fan of history, which is what drew me to this book, whose description reads as follows:
“The unforgettable story of Alexander Pushkin’s beautiful wife, Natalya, a woman much admired at Court, and how she became reviled as the villain of St. Petersburg.
At the beguiling age of sixteen, Natalya Goncharova is stunningly beautiful and intellectually curious. At her first public ball during the Christmas of 1828, she attracts the romantic attention of Russia’s most lauded rebel poet: Alexander Pushkin. Finding herself deeply attracted to Alexander’s intensity and joie de vivre, Natalya is swept up in a courtship and then a marriage full of passion but also destructive jealousies. When vicious court gossip leads Alexander to defend his honor as well as Natalya’s in a duel, he tragically succumbs to his injuries. Natalya finds herself reviled for her perceived role in his death. In her striking new novel, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, Jennifer Laam helps bring Natalya’s side of the story to life with vivid imagination―the compelling tale of her inner struggle to create a fulfilling life despite the dangerous intrigues of a glamorous imperial Court and that of her greatest love.”
Sounds both intriguing and complicated, doesn’t it? And amazingly so, the book manages to be both and, on top of it, a romance – even if not your typical one.
(Though, it could be argued that’s a good thing. Who wants more of the same?)
But the most important thing is that the book is, above all things, a portrayal of a strong woman, a nuanced woman, neither a hero, not a villain, just someone struggling with the weight of the expectations the time period has placed upon her and still coming out of it with her sense of self intact. So often when books turn historical we get cardboard characters, as if readers were unable to handle shades of grey in our heroes and heroines, and this is especially true when it comes to women, who must either be virginal and perfect or evil harlots.
Natalya is neither – she’s just a woman, one who feels and loves and just wants to live her life away from intrigue. And this makes Natalya as real as a modern woman, relatable in a way some characters set in this day and age never manage to be.
That’s a credit to Laam and the way she weaves the different parts of her character’s psyche into the story. Yes, this is about Natalya, but it’s also about people’s perception of her, and in a broader sense, of women in general. And if you add to that a prose that sweeps you away, it’s easy to forget that this romance doesn’t perhaps have the happily ever after we all wanted.
But, it’s 2018. We don’t need happily ever after. We need fighters. And in Natalya, Laam has given us a character we can love or hate, but most definitely understand.
Rating: ⅘. Don’t regret reading. Might even be a book I re-read.