The Last Russian Doll

Image of The Last Russian Doll
Release Date: 
March 14, 2023
Reviewed by: 

Kristen Loesch has written a masterly, unique, gripping novel.”

It’s the Russian revolution and its aftermath, a romance to match that of Lara and Yuri Zhivago, a compelling mystery, and a beautifully complex story involving three women of different generations whose lives are connected.  

Kristen Loesch has written a masterly, unique, gripping novel. Structured as alternating stories of its main characters—Tonya, Rosie/Raisa, and Valentin—the story takes place from the early 20th century to the 1990s. To make it even more interesting it involves fairy tales, porcelain dolls, and a cast of secondary characters that enrich, and often complicate, the plot.

Tonya begins life as a Russian elite who suffers the repression, imprisonment, and poverty that results from the Bolshevik uprising, the fall of the aristocracy, the Stalin years, and Communism. Rosie, born in Russia, lives in England where she and her mother fled after a terrifying event that has left her emotionally scarred. She is compelled to return to Russia as an adult in search of her mother’s secrets and to know what really happened on one traumatic night. Valentin is a Bolshevik leader at the time of the budding revolution whose life takes a stunning turn over many years. To reveal more would reveal too much of the complex plot.

More importantly, the larger themes of the book are epic. Betrayal, revenge, truth, love, loyalty, reconciliation, and redemption loom large with intrigue and meaning. These themes are revealed in this sweeping historical debut novel that reads like a Russian classic.

Indeed, the novel is inspired by Russian literature, as Loesch, a scholar whose work focuses on Russian history and resistance, points out in her Author’s note. The novel, she says, “is a love letter to Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and other epic novels by the great Russian writers. . . . But most of all, The Last Russian Doll is a tribute to several hugely important aspects of twentieth century Russian history. . . . It aims to reveal the personal impact [historical events] had on the citizens of Russia. . . . The continued reexamination of this history is absolutely necessary, not only as a way to grapple with and learn from the past, but also as a lens through which to critically view and fully understand the present.”

Bringing all that to life is part of why The Last Russian Doll was short-listed for the Caledonia Novel Award, long-listed for the Bath Novel Award, and is being published in ten countries. Even without that recognition, one could easily argue that what makes the book so wonderfully gripping is the narrative skill of the author, whether she is setting a scene, developing characters, using dialogue to move the story forward, or reflecting on human nature and the issues in life that loom large.