Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The most fascinating Catherine

Catherine the Great by Henri Troyat takes an already fascinating history and enlivens it with focus on all manner of intrigue, scheming, sex and more sex. This naturally kept me glued to the pages. The tale of how an obscure 14 year old German princess came to be betrothed to the Grand Duke Peter, heir of Empress Elizabeth of Russia, and plotted her way into power is mesmerizing. The loathsome, infantile half-wit Peter is so bizarre as to seem a fictional creation. The young princess doesn't let that deter her; instead she carefully endears herself to the Russian people and engineers a coup the moment Peter ascends the throne.

As the years go by, the book does highlight Catherine's personal life rather than giving a thorough account of historical context, but the reader gets a sense of what Russia was like at that time for both royalty and for serfs, who were merely property. Catherine did succeed in bringing her adopted country more into the European mainstream, and may have been the first royal who espoused (although did not practice) egalitarianism.

This spiced-up biography is an entertaining and informative read.

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