The Winter Palace

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The Winter Palace

by Eva Stachniak

Doubleday Canada | January 3, 2012 | Trade Paperback |

3.4444 out of 5 rating. 9 Reviews
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Behind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak''s novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia''s greatest matriarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition.
 
Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara is a servant who will become one of Russia''s most cunning royal spies. Sophia is a pretty, naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 Pages, 6.3 × 9.06 × 1.18 in

Published: January 3, 2012

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 038566656X

ISBN - 13: 9780385666565

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– More About This Product –

The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace

by Eva Stachniak

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 Pages, 6.3 × 9.06 × 1.18 in

Published: January 3, 2012

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 038566656X

ISBN - 13: 9780385666565

Read from the Book

I could have warned her when she arrived in Russia, this petty German princess from Zerbst, a town no bigger than St. Petersburg’s Summer Garden, this frail girl who would become Catherine.   This court is a new world to you, I could have said to her, a slippery ground. Do not be deceived by tender looks and flattering words, promises of splendor and triumph. This place is where hopes shrivel and die. This is where dreams turn to ashes.   She has charmed you already, our Empress. With her simplicity, the gentle touch of her hand, the tears she dried from her eyes at her first sight of you. With the vivacity of her speech and gestures, her brisk impatience with etiquette. How kind and frank Empress Elizabeth Petrovna is, you have said. Others have, too. Many others. But frankness can be a mask, a disguise, as her predecessor has learned far too late.   Three years ago our bewitching Empress was but a maiden princess at the court of Ivan VI, the baby Emperor, and his Regent Mother. There had been a fiance lost to smallpox, there had been other prospects derailed by political intrigues until everyone believed that, at thirty- two and without a husband, the youngest daughter of Peter the Great had missed her chance at the throne. They all thought Elizabeth Petrovna flippant and flighty then, entangled in the intricacies of her dancing steps and the cut of her ball dresses— all but a handful who kept their eyes opened wide, who gambled on the power of he
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From the Publisher

Behind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak''s novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia''s greatest matriarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition.
 
Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara is a servant who will become one of Russia''s most cunning royal spies. Sophia is a pretty, naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

About the Author

EVA STACHNIAK was born in Wroclaw, Poland. She came to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and Humanities. Her first short story, "Marble Heroes," was published by the Antigonish Review in 1994, and her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.com/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. Stachniak is also the author of Garden of Venus. She lives in Toronto.

Editorial Reviews

“ The Winter Palace is indeed as gorgeous, opulent and lush as its titular location.” — National Post   “At the same time baroque and intimate, worldly and domestic, wildly strange and soulfully familiar, The Winter Palace offers a flickering glimpse of history through the gauze of a deft entertainment.”  — The Washington Post   “[B]rilliant, bold . . . This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don’t have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph.” — Booklist “Eva Stachniak''s new novel should establish her as a pre-eminent writer of historical fiction. ... The Winter Palace is seamless in its depiction of a place and time…. what Stachniak has given us is not history, but a dramatic recreation of what the witnesses to history actually manage to see and do.” —Quill & Quire “Stachniak captures dramatic moments with flair, and the Russian Imperial court—with its fox-fur blankets, gilded furniture, and carafes of cherry vodka—appears in glorious splendor. This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don’t have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph.” — Booklist “Stachniak sets the scene extravagantly with details of sumptuous meals, elaborate wardrobes, and cunning palace politics. Longtime readers of English and French historical novels will delight in this relatively unsung
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Bookclub Guide

1. The novel starts with a quotation from a letter the future Catherine the Great wrote to the British Ambassador, Sir Hanbury-Williams: Three people who never leave her room, and who do not know about one another, inform me of what is going on, and will not fail to acquaint me when the crucial moment arrives.

What does this sentence tell us about the future empress of Russia?

2. Varvara is an immigrant to Russia. She is an outsider in many other ways, a tradesman's daughter among aristocrats, a Roman Catholic among Orthodox Christians, a Polish wife of a Russian officer. How does she cope with the need to belong? How much is she willing to sacrifice for a sense of home?

3. Catherine too is an immigrant. In 17th century Russia, keen on developing its national identity, her Prussian blood is suspect. How does Catherine cope with xenophobia? How does she use it to her advantage?

4. Much of the novel is about power. The characters crave it, gain it, lose it. How are the principal women characters: Varvara, Catherine, and Elizabeth defined by their understanding of what power is? What in their background made them think that their definition of power is the right one?

And what do men in the novel think of power? Powerful women? Their role in a country ruled by a woman?

5. Why is power so important to these three women? What do they wish to do with it? How much are they willing to sacrifice for it? And, when they finally have it, what do they actually do?

6. Motherhood is another pivotal issue in the novel. Elizabeth wishes to be a surrogate mother to her nephew, Peter, and later to Catherine's son Paul. Catherine and Varvara give birth to their own children. What does motherhood mean to each of them? How does it transform them? Why?

7. Darya and Paul are two children whose births we witness in the novel. How does their childhood differ? What is expected of them? What emotional future do envisage for them and why?

8. Love, lust and marriage are always present at the Winter Palace. How do the three principal characters, Varvara, Catherine and Elizabeth, understand them?  How do they use love, lust, and marriage to further their own needs? Why?

9. The Russian court is the backdrop of the novel. Historical sources confirm that spying was ubiquitous there. How does being a spy affect Varvara? How does having spies affect Elizabeth and Catherine? How does being watched affect the lives of the courtiers?

10. Loyalty is another important theme in The Winter Palace-national, political, personal.  How does each of the three main characters define loyalty? How does this definition affect their actions?

11. Peter the Great has transformed Russia. Is his presence felt in the novel? In what ways? What is your sense of Russia under Elizabeth and later under Catherine? Why does the country feel snubbed by the rest of Europe? How do Catherine and Elizabeth play to this sense of rejection? What are their visions for Russia? Do they really differ that much?

12. Toward the end of the novel Catherine decides to reassess her own needs as an empress and her obligations as a friend and lover. Is she justified in this decision? How does she do it? What are Varvara's expectations of their friendship and what is Catherine's assessment of it?

13. The novel ends when the reign of Catherine II has just begun. How much has Catherine sacrificed for her position? Is it possible to predict from her behavior as Grand Duchess what kind of a ruler is she going to be? What are her best qualities? Her worst?

14. Varvara leaves Catherine's court. In the last chapter of the novel she meets one of Catherine's former lovers, recently elected the king of Poland. What are Varvara's feelings about Stanislaw's prospects? What does she fear? Why?

15. The novel ends with the image of Varvara beginning to tell Darya the story of her life in Russia. How much do you think she will tell her child? What will she keep to herself? Why?

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