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The Pearl: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in Catherine the Great's Russia Paperback – 14 Aug 2009

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (14 Aug. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300158580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300158588
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 14.5 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 907,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


''The Pearl' is a bright, sparkling jewel of a book; a masterpiece that deserves as wide an audience as possible. Russia's greatest love story has never been properly told, until now.' - Amanda Foreman, author of 'Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire'. 'An engaging narrative... Scrupulous research underlies this fascinating picture of life at Russia's top social echelon.' George Loomis, Moscow Times --Amanda Foreman, George Loomis


"The blend of historical and fictional discourse offers a highly readable complement to more academic studies ... Smith does an excellent job." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
In Russia it seems everybody knows the story of Count Nicholas Sheremetev, one of the richest man in Russia, secretly married 32-year-old Praskovia Kovalyova, his former serf. It is a popular legendary romantic fairy tale.

The heroine is Praskovia Ivanovna Kovalyova who was one of the best opera singers in eighteenth-century Russia. She was born into the family of a serf smith. They were owned by the Counts Sheremetevs,who had made their fortune as military leader of Peter the Great. 200.000 serfs were own with body and soul by the Sheremetevs. Count Nikolai loved the theatre and kept a serf theatre. Its brightest star became Parskovia.In this 1780 performance Sacchini's opera La coloniethe actress for the first time appeared under the stage name Zhemchugova, "The Pearl", (zhemchug means "pearl" in Russian). She became the count's mistress; not unusal but this was more. She became a wife in all but name. Already quite scandalous. However, this all went further. Freed by the count, in 1801 she became secretly his wife and mother of his son Dimitry. She died shortly afterwards in 1803. The count had already asked and received official recognition of his marriage. This marriage scandalized society and angered Nikolai's family. His two nephews wanted of course to inherit his vast fortune.T he plaque on Praskovia's grave is a monument for the count's love: This plain marble, unfeeling and impermanent, Hides the priceless remains of a wife and mother. Her soul was a temple of virtue, In which peace, piety, and faith resided, Where pure love and friendship dwellt. He died in 1809.
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By KAW on 6 May 2013
Format: Paperback
This was a fascinating love story, the couple not only crossed the class divide the man actually married his serf, the women was legally his property, until he freed her and gave her the status of wife.The author writes convincing about a society that is hard to imagine now. The serf singers and performers were admired and could even become quite wealthy but they belonged bodily and morally to their masters.The material sometimes feels a little stretched and the author admits that he has had to use his imagination and some dramatic licence, but it is a story worth telling and it feels as if he cares deeply about his subjects.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am of Russian origin, from St Petersburg, a historian specialising in the 18th century. As such, I found that the book contains many factual errors, and analysis of and comments on characters and events are debatable. As an exciting love story for a Western reader who does not know anything about Russia and 18th century - it is possibly OK. As an academic research and reliable secondary source - it is not.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I truly enjoyed Smith's latest book Former People. Tremendously fresh and painful story with strong characters who were trying to survive in a society that loathed them. The Pearl us a gripping and upsetting story about a forbidden love affair between a high aristocrat and his serf. Beautifully told and incredibly sad.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars 16 reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Love and Death 20 Jan. 2014
By William S Jamison - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Setting the stage by giving the contrasting lives prior to their first meeting, certainly prepares the ground for the thesis that this was not a match made in heaven. We have a member of the extreme top one percent (in today's jargon) and Friday (her name in Russian through the Greek) - his Gal Friday! - is bottom what? Ten percent? She is his property. This reminds me of the situation Thomas Jefferson had with his slave (and cousin) Sally Hemings - the mother of most of his surviving children. Upstairs / Downstairs merges. Granted the situation with serfs was much different in many ways from American slavery - though my understanding of how things ran with Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power estate were certainly better by far than the rule. And the same differences were there in Russia as well since it was up to the individual owner how people were treated. A fascinating part of the book concerns the Thieving Magpie - a serf singer much like Friday that was sold as part of the troupe on the death of the owner who was going to give them all their freedom. The new owner was a letch that was furious with rejection and the singer resigned herself to death. Contrast this with the presumption that Friday loved Nicholas. Or did she? Even Nicholas writes that she was more in love with Matrimony than with him. But this book describes an incredible economics. While in my book group one friend said it reminded her of War and Peace, I replied it reminded me more of Woody Allen's Love and Death! Picture hundreds of carriages taking all the servants, food, and a wagon full of clothes for them from one estate to another so they could attend the coronation. Seeing something like that would put me more in mind of a straight faced Woody Allen clearly communicating the hysterical behaviors of the rich while people were starving around them. Another thing this book reminded me of was Europe's Physician: The Various Life of Theodore de Mayerne - from a century earlier - and the fight among physicians to introduce chemicals as part of health. The health issues among the rich and how they were treated, with leeches, bloodletting, Spanish fly, milk baths, seem a horrid approach. Were things better in France? George Washington probably died from such care. All in all, this was a slow book to attract my interest but a fast read, so the interesting things came up pretty quickly once I got into it. Thanks to the Internet, and most of the sites in the book are still there and museums with web sites, you can follow along in the book while looking at what the places look like today. I am glad I read it, though I admit I was hesitant to get started.
5.0 out of 5 stars THE PEARL by Douglas Smith 22 July 2013
By pen - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book presents a fascinating aspect of Russian history and I would recommend it to those interested in such subject. It deals with the family history of Count Boris Sheremetev, General during the Thirty-Year War, who won the Poltava Battle for Peter the Great. The book centers on the romance of Nicholas Sheremetev (Boris' grandson) with one of his serf women, who he married later in life, and the scandal such a union caused in the circles of Imperial Russia during Catherine the Great, especially the stigma such a union caused to the future Sheremetev heirs. For obvious reasons, it is a sad story, but interesting nonetheless because of the impact the family had on developing the future of opera, ballet and theater in Russia, the precursors also of the Bolshoi Ballet in modern times. Nobody recommended this book to me ... I came across it by accident while browsing the internet in search of books on the Pushkin palaces and the Tretyakov Gallery. Highly recommended for those interested in a little-known piece of Russian history. The book was delivered in perfect condition and on time by seller, who I also recommend.
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're interested in imperial Russia 28 Oct. 2016
By Alice Kaderlan Halsey - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One of the best nonfiction books I've ever read. Really makes the characters and the period come alive.If y
2.0 out of 5 stars Assumptions Unending 31 Oct. 2013
By Lee W - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I loved 'Former People' and got this as a follow on but found it too based on maybe, perhaps, could have happened, it's possible. There was insufficient concrete fact about The Pearl and I found the continual assumptions irritating.
4.0 out of 5 stars What a different look at history 20 Jun. 2013
By ReViewer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Interesting story of a Russian noble who married one of his serfs ... and how the policies, practices and prejudices of the day impacted him and his wife. Engaging even if a little academic in style.
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