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The Lost Souls of Angelkov ~ Reviewed by Annie Vigna

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The Lost Souls of Angelkov by Linda Holeman

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The Lost Souls of Angelkov by Linda Holeman
Random House Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-36159-2

Reviewed by Annie Vigna

The year is 1861.  The location is Angelkov Estate, Province of Pskov, three days’ ride from St. Petersburg, Russia.  Tsar Alexander II is about to release his Emancipation Manifesto that will free the serfs from ownership of wealthy landowners.  It is a time of confusion, dramatic upheavals, and social revolution.

Linda Holeman introduces this period in Russia’s history through the kidnapping of ten year old Mikhail (Misha), only son of Count Konstantin and Countess Antonina Mitlovsky.  Who are the kidnappers?  Who has colluded with them?  If he is alive, where is the young boy being held?  When will he be returned?  What barbarous acts will be committed during the commission of this incident?  Holeman snares readers attention and keeps them in suspense to the end, while also weaving a rich tapestry contrasting the lives of wealthy landowners with the lives of the souls they own.

As Leo Tolstoy did in Anna Karenina, and Caroline Adderson did in The Sky is Falling, Holeman explores the “girl crush”; but Holeman takes it much further—dangerously further. Although the peasant girl Lilya demonstrates her love for Antonina with a kiss when they are both just thirteen, Lilya continues her obsession with the countess when she becomes her maid; and her insane jealousy has tragic consequences.

These are believable characters, many of whom evolve throughout the novel–some very noble, but not of the nobility. I’m thinking of the steward at the Angelkov estate, Grisha, who left his home in Eastern Siberia, walking and working his way eventually to Pskov.  He remained a free man.  His father, a Decembrist exiled in Siberia, “stressed the idea of freedom, and how he had fought for this for the peasants who made up over eighty percent of Russia’s population.” (323)

To read such a novel one would do well to make notes of the names of the characters at the beginning of the book.  As was customary with Russian names, patronynics and diminutives are used. For example, Count Konstantin Mitlovsky is known as Konstantin Nikolevich (his patronymic, i.e., son of Nicholas) but Kostya (endearing diminutive) by his wife.  Likewise, his son Mikhail is Misha to his parents, but to the servants, Mikhail Konstantinovich (after his father Konstantin) Mitlovsky.

Before she married Count Konstantin Mitlovsky, Antonina was Princess Antonina Leonidovna (after her father Leonid) Olonova.  To her parents, she was Tosya.  She was high-spirited and rebelled against feminine trappings, learning to drink vodka with her three brothers, and eventually drinking to excess.  “She fit nowhere; she was neither as hard and aloof as a man nor as soft and flowery as her brothers’ female friends.” (109)

When she was eighteen, she was summoned to her father’s study to hear her father say,

You’re quite grown up now . . . And so I have arranged a marriage for you . . . You will be married to Count Mitlovsky.

No . . . no, Father, He’s an old man!

He’s not yet fifty –six years younger than I am.  And he’s an honest man.  I’ve done business with him before.

Konstantin Nikolevich is an influential man.  He has a large estate close to the city of Pskov.  He owns many versts and many souls. . . And he would like children.  (162-3)

Antonina did not go quietly into the arranged marriage. (171)

Her husband offered a visit to a dressmaker but, denied of one by her pragmatic father, she wanted a dog.  “A dog? But of course.  You shall have whatever dog you wish.” (176) She chooses a Maltese lap dog, and calls her Tinka.  How very Chekhovian.

Antonina remained a virgin for a full three weeks, although not for her husband’s lack of trying. (183)

The Lost Souls of Angelkov depicts the Russian aristocracy as unfaithful to their marriage partners, as was the case with Antonina’s parents.  “They lived their lives as if not married to each other, or, more specifically, as if unmarried and free.” (97) Likewise, Antonina’s new husband regularly bedded Tania, the laundress at the estate. He came infrequently to his wife’s boudoir.

But then Antonina realized she was pregnant with the child who would be Misha. (205)

She loved her new role as mother, insisting on nursing the infant, defying her husband’s pleas to use wet nurses.  The boy grew up loving music and had become accomplished, able to play pieces that his mother copied from Glinka’s scores.  His father was disappointed that Misha was not more interested in manly pursuits; and it was this scenario that set the stage for the opening scene of the novel, and the ensuing guilt and misery that followed.

The Lost Souls of Angelkov rewards readers with a greater understanding of a Russia emerging from serfdom with no set pattern for smooth transition; rather, besotted with conflicts and struggles. Holeman artfully resurrects characters mentioned ostensibly only as background history.  The reader can imagine a substantial Matrushka Doll—remove the lid of the largest, look inside, remove the next lid, and on and on down to the last, lidless, and be rewarded with the knowledge that one’s suspicions have been correct.  That last one has been there all the time.

Linda Holeman is the author of The Linnet Bird, The Moonlit Cage, In a Far Country and The Saffron Gate, as well as eight other works of fiction and short fiction. Her books have been translated into twelve languages.  A world traveler, she grew up in Winnipeg, and now lives in Toronto and Santa Monica, California.


Annie Vigna is a former bookstore owner. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Other reviews by Annie Vigna

The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
Far to Go by Alison Pick
Key in Lock by Rona Altrows
Mennonites Don’t Dance by Darcie Friesen
Murder on the Bow by John Ballem 
Notes for Monday By Barb Howard
Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese
Sex in Russia by Kenneth Radu
Snowdrift by Lisa McGonigle
Red Dog Red Dog by Patrick Lane



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