If you haven’t read Dean’s book, The Madonnas of Leningrad, do it. Right now. It’s that good.
Her subsequent collection of stories? Confessions of a Falling Woman? An absolute disaster. A sophomore slump? Perhaps. A successful author pushed to publish something quickly after a first success? That’s my guess. I presume that she already had the stories and was pressed by her publisher to get something out quickly.
So where does The Mirrored World stand? Much closer to Madonnas than Confessions. For one, Dean is back in Russia where her heart so clearly resides. Her description of both time and place (i.e., the Ice Palace) are remarkable. The plot is not as compelling as in Madonnas. It may have religious undercurrents that I missed (echoes of the story of the sisters, Mary and Martha, perhaps?). Still, the writing is rich and the story moves in interesting and sometimes surprising directions.
Two of my favorite passages:
There are mysteries that cannot be reasoned. Hail falls out of a clear sky and crushes the ripening field to rubble in an instant. The peasant who looks on and sees his broken stalks and blackened field may have lived well and piously or not, it does not change that his family will starve.
Christ instructed his disciples not to lay up their treasure on earth but in Heaven. For where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also. But the heart stubbornly attaches to familiar places and things and would rather have these, no matter how humble, than to exchange them for the promise of what is glorious but unknown.
For an engaging trip to Russia, read this. For a great book, read Madonnas. I hope she has another great one in her.