Book Review

The Last Russian Doll By Kristen Loesch

The Last Russian Doll

  • Author: Kristen Loesch
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: March 14, 2023
  • Publisher: Berkley

CONTENT WARNING: murder, death of children, blood, alcoholism, death of a parent, child abuse, violence, miscarriage, starvation, gore, death, bullying, suicide

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A haunting, epic novel about betrayal, revenge, and redemption that follows three generations of Russian women, from the 1917 revolution to the last days of the Soviet Union, and the enduring love story at the center.

In a faraway kingdom, in a long-ago land…

…a young girl lived happily in Moscow with her family: a sister, a father, and an eccentric mother who liked to tell fairy tales and collect porcelain dolls.

One summer night, everything changed, and all that remained of that family were the girl and her mother.

Now, a decade later and studying at Oxford University, Rosie has an English name, a loving fiancé, and a promising future, but all she wants is to understand–and bury–the past. After her mother dies, Rosie returns to Russia, armed with little more than her mother’s strange folklore–and a single key.

What she uncovers is a devastating family history that spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges, and beyond.

At the heart of this saga stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions—and love for an idealistic man—will set off a sweeping story that reverberates across the century….

You might not know this about me, but if there’s one period in time I can’t read enough about, it’s the Russian Revolution. I don’t know why, but I just find it fascinating, and immensely powerful to see how the people managed to survive such a difficult period of upheaval. 

This story is told in a dual timeline, with one set during the Russian Revolution, and the other set as the Soviet Union is collapsing, and both women are experiencing massive changes in their lives set against these backdrops of societal changes.

In the present day, we meet Rosie, who is a student at Oxford and seems to have everything in her future going in the right direction. But she’s still haunted by memories of her childhood in Russia, especially the night when a man came to her home and killed her father and older sister, leaving her mother and her to defect to England. Her mother kept herself content with fairy tales, porcelain dolls, and alcohol, leaving Rosie on her own. 

In the past, we meet Antonina (Tonya), a beautiful girl from a farm in the country who is married to a nobleman who presents her with a porcelain doll fashioned to look like her. Yet as the masses rise against the Tsar, Tonya discovers another man with whom she falls in love, and is faced with a choice—stay in a loveless marriage or jump into the unknown. 

This book, unlike many I have read with dual timelines, was equally engaging in both timelines. I was never disappointed when they switched, because I loved both Rosie’s and Tonya’s story, and was eager to find out what happened to both women. I think one of my favorite parts of the story was watching Rosie get to see her mother in a different light, as she learned who her mother really was, before she succumbed to alcoholism. The clues that she left Rosie allowed her to follow a path to finally get answers.

“The more time I spend in Russia, the closer I get to the truth, the more I know, the less I understand.”

There’s a bit of a romance in the story, but it isn’t spicy, and doesn’t take away from the storyline at all. It was fascinating to see the breakdown of the monarchy in Tonya’s timeline, and then to see how communism breaks down in Rosie’s timeline, and watching how these two very different women weather the storms that they face. 

Overall, this was a really good read. It felt like a long book, but that was just because the two different timelines made it feel like two different stories rolled into one, and they didn’t converge until closer to the end. Although there was one major question I had that didn’t get answered, I loved how the rest of my questions got resolved and how this book ended for both timelines.

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