In this witty and colourfully peopled novel, Caroline Adderson effortlessly plunges the reader into a nineteenth-century Russian tragicomedy. Aspiring painter Masha C. is blindly devoted to Antosha, her famous writer-brother. Through the years Antosha takes up with numerous women from Masha’s circle of friends, yet none of these relationships threaten the siblings’ close ties until the winter he falls into a depression. Then Masha invites into their Moscow home a young woman who teaches with her—the beautiful, vivacious and deeply vulnerable Lika Mizanova—with the express hope she might help Antosha recover.
The appearance of Lika sets off a convolution of unrequited love, jealousy and scandal that lasts for seven years. If the famously unattainable writer has lost his heart to Lika as everyone claims, why does he undertake a life-threatening voyage to Sakhalin Island? And what will happen to Masha if she is demoted from “woman of the house” to “spinster sister”? While Antosha and Lika push and pull, Masha falls in love herself—with a man and with a mongoose—only to have her dreams crushed twice. From her own heartbreak Masha comes to recognize the harm that she has done to her friends by encouraging their involvement with Antosha, but it is too late for Lika, who will both sacrifice herself for love and be immortalized as the model for Nina in Chekhov’s The Seagull.
A Russian Sister offers a clever commentary on the role of women as prey for male needs and inspiration, a role they continue to play today. At the same time the novel is a plea for sisterhood, both familial and friendly. Chekhov’s The Seagull changed the theatre. A Russian Sister gives the reader a glimpse behind the curtain to the fascinating real-life people who inspired it and the tragedy that followed its premiere.