author: elisabeth sahmueller | staff writer
Pages filled with imagination / Gill Paul
A novel for bookworms everywhere
What if Grand Duchess Tatiana Romanov, the second eldest daughter of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, somehow escaped execution along with the rest of her family on July 16, 1918, and reunited twenty-nine years later with her secret lover? Despite the unlikeliness of this situation, it is still one which provides one hell of a plot for a great story as demonstrated in Gill Paul’s historical fiction novel, The Secret Wife. Creatively narrated through the two protagonists,’ Russian born, Dmitri Yakovlevich (Malama) and London resident, Kitty Fisher, alternating viewpoints which shift between past and present, The Secret Wife is an engaging, must–read, page–turner involving romance, war, revolution, guilt and secrets.
Dmitri’s story takes place in the past, beginning in 1914 and is slowly revealed over the course of the novel through a series of flashbacks. After being wounded from fighting as a soldier in the Russian army during the first week of WWI, Dmitri is taken to the Catherine Palace Hospital for medical treatment. While here, he meets Tatiana Romanov, one of the Russian Tsar’s daughters, who is a nurse at the hospital. Within a short amount of time, a romantic relationship develops between Tatiana and Dmitri, which not only continues after he returns to fight at the front, but also becomes more serious, as the two being to consider and plan for a future together after the war is over.
Unfortunately, their optimistic future is shattered by the worsening situation in Russia, due to the country’s devastating and lengthy war involvement and the growing dissatisfaction with imperial rule. As a result, revolution erupts in Russia, which first pushes the Romanov family out of power and then places them under house arrest. Despite Dmitri’s attempt to rescue the family from imprisonment and save them from the horrible outcome he fears is coming, he is unsuccessful. His failure not only completely breaks his heart, but also places a massive burden of guilt on his shoulders, which cannot easily be eliminated. Even though he desperately wants and tries to move on with his life by throwing himself into work as a writer, getting married, and having children, he is never able to let go of the past, or fully forget the love of his life, Tatiana. Once Dmitri has almost managed to move on with his life, his past comes flooding back while when out on a book tour in Prague, he sees the woman he thought he had lost forever, who once again changes his life.
Kitty Fisher is the other protagonist, and her story occurs in the present, beginning in 2016, as she is on her way to the cabin at Lake Akanabee, which she has recently inherited from her great grandfather, Dmitri Yakovlevich. When she first receives a letter stating that she was entitled to the estate of her great grandfather, who had died thirty years ago, as his only living relative, she is immediately suspicious, believing it’s a scam. Once Kitty looks into this assertion, she realizes it legitimate, but despite her enthusiasm about acquiring this cabin, deciding what to do with it becomes a forgotten concept. However, all of this changes three months later, when Kitty realizes her husband, Tom, has been cheating on her. Motivated by anger and the desire to get away from her unfaithful husband, Kitty makes a last-minute decision to finally go and check out her grandfather’s cabin. Although Kitty is expecting to find a beautiful cabin by the lake, she is disappointed when she finds a run-down cabin greatly in need of repair. As Kitty spends her summer at her newly acquired cabin, she not only fixes it up, but also uncovers a lot of hidden secrets, evident when she finds a jewelled dog tag, an old diary written in Russian and most shocking and disturbing, a dead body buried near the cabin. In the process, she not only learns more about herself, but also about the grandfather she never knew she had and his life, one which she never could have imagined.
The Secret Wife is an excellent novel not only because it draws readers into the lives of Kitty and Dmitri right from page one, by slowly releasing information until the end when all of the pieces finally come together, but also because of its skillful combination of of history and imagination. Even though Paul has incorporated a great deal of creativity into her novel, it is clear that she did a lot of research through the inclusion of a various accurate historical details and facts regarding real people and events. Tatiana, along with her three sisters helped out in the war effort as she and her older sister, Olga, were nurses at the Catherine Palace Hospital. Additionally, Dmitri Yakovlevich was a real individual who fought in World War One, was injured and did meet Tatiana while in the hospital, the latter proven by the inclusion within Tatiana’s diary entries throughout the fall of 1914. Additionally, the lack of detail about Tatiana and Dmitri’s relationship makes it easy, as Paul suggests, to “read between the lines” and imagine what could’ve been.
While this novel is great for all history lovers, like myself, I would highly recommend it to everyone because its captivating storyline will be easily loved by anyone who gives it a chance. Paul’s novel offers a new and exciting glimpse into this immensely turbulent time period within both Russian and European History. Most stories about surviving Romanov family members usually focus on Anastasia, the youngest daughter, so reading this novel centering around Tatiana, one of the other grand duchess’ is refreshing and extremely unique.
The Secret Wife embodies what I love about history, something which I learned from a past professor of mine. It shows that history is not just about boring facts, but is a story about the lives and events of real people and, because of the unknown elements, there is always the potential to ask, “what if?”