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The Porcelain Doll by Kristen Loesch

About the book

In a faraway kingdom, in a long-ago land … … Rosie lived peacefully in Moscow and her mother told her fairy tales. One summer night, all that came abruptly to an end when her father and sister were gunned down. Now, Rosie’s only inheritance from her reclusive mother is a notebook full of eerie, handwritten tales, but there is another story lurking between the lines. Currently studying at Oxford University, Rosie has a fiance who knows nothing of her former life. Desperate for answers to the questions that have tormented her, Rosie returns to her homeland and uncovers a devastating family history which spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges and beyond. At the heart of those answers stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions reverberate across the century …

My review

How does one strike a balance between past and present? Is it worth the risk to delve into pain passed down from one family member to another, to uncover stories previously concealed? It’s often a Pandora’s Box that will force whoever confronts them to face a well of consequences far deeper than expected. In this case, it’s a journey you’ll want to be on.

Loesch tells this intergenerational story with skill and finesse. The book’s two storylines hit two significant points in Russian history: the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s a testament to Loesch’s knowledge and dexterous storytelling that this doesn’t overwhelm the reader. I sometimes find it difficult to switch between two different timelines and storylines while reading because I feel jerked away from one and plunged into the other before I’m ready. In this book, I was so equally gripped by each strand of the story that I wanted to keep reading no matter what. They’re woven together with purpose, richly told, and yet both storylines are immersive in their own right. 

There are many special things about this book, but I especially loved the countless lines that struck me as I was reading, that I wanted to underline and come back to because they stayed with me. Loesch’s layered sentences compelled me to reread the same line over and over, ready to find something different each time.  

When I first saw The Porcelain Doll’s title, it reminded me of one of my favourite fairytales as a child: Vasilisa the Beautiful, the story of a girl and her doll (and the infamous Baba Yaga). The author names this very story in her ending note, and mentions her own lifelong interest in fairytales and myths. It was a delight to step into The Porcelain Doll’s pages, which evoke modern fairytale and Russian literature fused. 

In honour of The Porcelain Doll’s publication day – and of a story about mothers, daughters, and granddaughters – I’ve included in the photo above a doll given to me by my nonna. She’s been perched in various spots in my bedroom for so many years, so it was great fun to break her out and give her a little photoshoot. The Porcelain Doll has gifted me a striking reminder of family history carried through generations, and the weight it can carry. 

I actually discovered, thanks to this book, that under my doll’s hair there is a hole, and her head is hollow. To find out what that relates to … the book is just a click away.