(2012) #46 review: The Mirrored World

The Mirrored World


Debra DEAN

245 pages

Published by Harper Colllins
in August 2012

Hardcover received from Harper Collins

This book counts for the following Reading Challenges:



If you are neither Eastern Orthodox nor Russian, chance is you never heard of Saint Xenia. As an Orthodox believer myself, I know a bit about her, actually there’s very little we know about her. But we are told her intercession can help you find a house. I did ask for her help, and we did find a house quickly. As thanksgiving, I painted her on this icon-style rock:

Click here to see more of my icon-style rocks

Blessed Xenia of St. Petersburg, (Russian: Святая блаженная Ксения Петербургская [Xenia Grigoryevna Petrova]) is an 18th century Russian fool-for-Christ. In grief over the death of her husband, she distributed all her possessions and took up a life as a holy fool. Her life was centered on God, and she sought protection and comfort only in Him while wandering among the poor of St. Petersburg. She is commemorated on January 24.

The little we know basically comes from the epitaph on her gravestone:

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Here rests the body of the servant of God, Xenia Grigorievna,
Wife of the imperial chorister, Colonel Andrei Theodorovich Petrov.
Widowed at the age of 26, a pilgrim for 45 years,
She lived a total of 71 years.
She was known by the name Andrei Theodorovich.
May whoever knew me pray for my soul that his own may be saved. Amen.

Here are the prayers of the Orthodox service on her commemoration day:

Troparion (Tone 4)

Having renounced the vanity of the earthly world,
Thou didst take up the cross of a homeless life of wandering;
Thou didst not fear grief, privation, nor the mockery of men,
And didst know the love of Christ.
Now taking sweet delight of this love in heaven,
O Xenia, the blessed and divinely wise,
Pray for the salvation of our souls.

Troparion (Tone 8)

In you, O mother was carefully preserved what is according to the image.
For you took up the Cross and followed Christ.
By so doing, you taught us to disregard the flesh for it passes away,
But to care instead for the soul since it is immortal.
Therefore, O Blessed Xenia, your spirit rejoices with the Angels.

Kontakion (Tone 7)

Having loved the poverty of Christ,
You are now being satisfied at the Immortal Banquet.
By the humility of the Cross, you received the power of God.
Having acquired the gift of miraculous help, O Blessed Xenia,
Beseech Christ God, that by repentance
We may be delivered from every evil thing.


It is so unusual to have an Orthodox Saint featured as the heroin of a novel that I requested right away a copy of The Mirrored World when I realized what it was about – actually, the beautiful cover does point to Orthodoxy. I’m very grateful to the author Debra Dean and to HarperCollins who sent me the book right away: I got it the following day!!

I had not read Debra Dean’s previous books. I like very much her writing, very fluid and full of lively details. From very little, she managed to create a very plausible historical environment to one of Russia’s most revered saints. Saint Xenia’s life is actually presented here  by her imaginary cousin Dasha.

I liked the way Debra Dean managed to articulate Xenia’s call to the vocation of fool-for-Christ with her personal tremendous grief. We see little by little Xenia drowning into the depth of her inconsolable sadness and insanity, if we look at it from a purely human perspective, or embracing progressively a Christ-like kenosis.

And this is all with the background of Catherine the Great‘s court and intrigues! So there are definitely lots of elements here to please historical fiction lovers.

Also, I commend the author, not Russian, and I believe not Orthodox either, for the accuracy of the elements of her novel related to Orthodoxy. It is not always the case with historical novels set in Russia.


The critically acclaimed author of The Madonnas of Leningrad (“Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share” –Isabel Allende), Debra Dean returns with The Mirrored World, a breathtaking novel of love and madness set in 18th century Russia. Transporting readers to St. Petersburg during the reign of Catherine the Great, Dean brilliantly reconstructs and reimagines the life of St. Xenia, one of Russia’s most revered and mysterious holy figures, in a richly told and thought-provoking work of historical fiction that recounts the unlikely transformation of a young girl, a child of privilege, into a saint beloved by the poor.. [Goodreads]


 Debra Dean’s bestselling novel THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a #1 Booksense Pick, a Booklist Top Ten Novel, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. It has been published in twenty languages. Her collection of short stories, CONFESSIONS OF A FALLING WOMAN, won the Paterson Fiction Prize and a Florida Book Award.

Her new novel, THE MIRRORED WORLD, is a breathtaking tale of love, madness, and devotion set against the extravagance and artifice of the royal court in eighteenth-century St. Petersburg.

A native of Seattle, she lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University. She loves to talk with book groups. You can find her at www.debradean.com and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/debradeanauthor.

And my review of The Madonnas of Leningrad,
also an exellent historical novel, is here




15 thoughts on “(2012) #46 review: The Mirrored World

    • They are actually not real icons, as you have to follow very strict rules when you “write an icon”, but I definitely follow the icon inspiration, among other styles for my hand-painted rocks. Thanks for your nice comment.


  1. Emmanuelle, I love this post! I have read some other blogs about this book and thought it sounded very interesting, but I learned so much from this post. Thank you! I have Debra Dean on my list for future reading and I heard her other book is excellent also. I don’t know of any other books that portray other saints. I find it very interesting though because I grew up in a protestant church and know nothing about them. Thanks again 🙂


  2. I don’t have a Christian background, but that is probably not a requirement for this novel 🙂 I’m always a bit hesitant about fiction set in Russian, as a few books I’ve read have managed to depress me. Kudos to the author for bringing to life this Orthodox saint during the days of Catherine the Great. There is truly something for everybody here, I believe!


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