Notorious Women by Jennifer Laam – Guest Blog

Long and Short Reviews is pleased to welcome Jennifer Laam whose newest book, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, released today.

NOTORIOUS WOMEN

Before I considered writing a book about Natalya Goncharova, the heroine of The Lost Season of Love and Snow, I knew her only as the notorious wife of the great poet Alexander Pushkin. She was no more than a footnote in Russian history: unquestionably beautiful and said to be dangerously flirtatious. Her husband died tragically at the age of 37, after a duel he fought to defend her honor. I hadn’t realized how severely Natalya’s historical reputation suffered as a result.

“Pushkin’s whore.”

A character in Martin Cruz Smith’s Tatiana uses this phrase to describe Natalya. After reading, I had to learn more about her. Once I did, I felt compelled to tell her story and her version of the events that led to that infamous duel.

Natalya was only sixteen when she met Alexander, and not much older than that when they married and started a family. I believe she was near-sighted, as Alexander described her as his “Madonna with a squint.” She seemed to enjoy beautiful gowns, costume balls, and the glamorous social life of the imperial court.

In some academic circles, Natalya has been characterized as empty-headed. I never believed it. Alexander Pushkin, a genius with a huge ego, would never marry a woman who didn’t appreciate his work. Unsurprisingly, newer research demonstrates that Natalya had an active inner life and took an interest in Russian poetry.

Though deeply in love, Natalya and Alexander were attractive and charming. Both of them captured the hearts of other people, always a strain on a marriage. Natalya even drew the romantic attention of the tsar. When the tsar and other men pursued her, she behaved in a manner appropriate to the time and place, play-acting the role of the adored lady in platonic courtly romances. We might even speculate — as I do in my novel — that Natalya behaved this way to protect her family.

Nevertheless, a legend persists. A fickle woman brought down a great man. This is the type of story I personally find tiresome. It relies on a misogynistic view of relationships based on gendered stereotypes and little understanding of complex personalities. I hope that at least in some small way, The Lost Season of Love and Snow, a fictionalized account of her life, contributes to recent efforts to restore Natalya’s reputation. Only by telling the lives of women of the past with dignity, can we truly expect women in the present to be treated with that same respect.

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.

About the Author:
JENNIFER LAAM is the author of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy. She earned her master’s degree in History from Oakland University in Michigan and her bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, traveled in Russia and Europe, and worked in education and non-profit development. She currently resides in Northern California.

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History and Imagination by Jennifer Laam – Guest Blog

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Jennifer Laam, author of the historical The Tsarina’s Legacy, which was released yesterday.

HISTORY AND IMAGINATION

Once upon a time, I was a graduate student who dreamed of teaching history by day and writing by night. My student days are over, and the job market for history professors almost non-existent, but I have made my dreams of publication come true. My first two novels—The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy–are both speculative historical fiction. The academic inside of me still thrives, and I conduct massive research for my novels. While writing, I find myself wide awake at three in the morning obsessing over details and which sources to trust.

Which brings me to one of the struggles of historical writing: what is a novelist’s responsibility to the facts of the past? I portray the atmosphere and personalities of historical settings and characters as authentically as possible. I write afterwards to make it clear which parts of my novels are documented and which are products of my imagination. I include bibliographies so that interested readers can investigate the lives of historical figures independently. Ultimately, however, I create fiction. I find fascinating tidbits in my research and let my imagination play.

I’m not suggesting that careless anachronisms are useful. I don’t think anyone wants to see Anne Boleyn texting. (Unless the plot involves time travel…and now I want to write that book.) To my mind, historical fiction is most intriguing when novelists use the past as allegory for current troubles. While women of prior centuries may not have been fluent in the language of contemporary feminism, I believe they experienced frustrations with their places in the world in a way that might feel familiar to women today.

If we limit ourselves to strict fact, we lose sight of people less visible in traditional political narratives of history. The academic must tread carefully when uncovering lives not documented as carefully as those of political leaders or so-called “great men” of the time. While historians have done important work in this field, the novelist can impart complex voices to those who were once unheard.

In allowing ourselves to explore the thoughts and emotions of historical figures, and experiment with how we present those emotions to our audience, writers and other artists create vivid works. On Broadway, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr rap. On film, Marie Antoinette luxuriates with her royal entourage to a new wave soundtrack. This is the ultimate intersection of history and imagination, and we are all the richer for it.

4_6 jennifer The Tsarina's LegacyThen…Grigory “Grisha” Potemkin has had a successful long association with the powerful Empress Catherine of Russia. But Catherine and Grisha are older now and face new threats, both from powers outside of Russia and from those close to them. Haunted by the horrors of his campaign against the Muslim Turks, Grisha hopes to construct a mosque in the heart of the empire. Unfortunately, Catherine’s much younger new lover, the ambitious Platon Zubov, stands in his way. Grisha determines that to preserve Catherine’s legacy he must save her from Zubov’s dangerous influence and win back her heart.

Now…When she learns she is the lost heiress to the Romanov throne, Veronica Herrera’s life turns upside down. Dmitry Potemkin, one of Grisha’s descendants, invites Veronica to Russia to accept a ceremonial position as Russia’s new tsarina. Seeking purpose, Veronica agrees to act as an advocate to free a Russian artist sentenced to prison for displaying paintings critical of the church and government. Veronica is both celebrated and chastised. As her political role comes under fire, Veronica is forced to decide between the glamorous perks of European royalty and staying true to herself.

In Jennifer Laam’s The Tsarina’s Legacy, unexpected connections between Grisha and Veronica are revealed as they struggle to make peace with the ghosts of their past and help secure a better future for themselves and the country they both love.

About the Author: 4_6 Jennifer Laam_credit Channa VanceJENNIFER LAAM is the author of The Tsarina’s Legacy, on-sale from St. Martin’s Griffin April 5th.She earned her master’s degree in History from Oakland University in Michigan and her bachelor’s degree from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA. She has lived in Los Angeles and the suburbs of Detroit, traveled in Russia and Europe, and worked in education and non-profit development. She currently resides in Northern California. Her first book is The Secret Daughter of the Tsar.

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