Set in Russia, after the Emancipation Act of 1861 when Czar Alexander II freed the serfs, The Lost Souls of Angelkov follows the fortunes of Antonina, a rather naive and spoiled aristocrat who is very much a product of her cosseted upbringing. Married to a much older man, Antonina drinks rather too much in order to escape the monotony of her life, but all is thrown into disarray when her beloved ten year old son, Mikhail, is kidnapped, in an alleged plot to extort money from her wealthy husband. When it all goes tragically wrong, Antonina must learn to cope with the consequences of this tragedy.
The story emerges in a series of character studies which helps to put both the time and place into context, as in order to know more about the social structure of Russia at this time, it’s important to learn more about the country and its people. Antonina’s rather pampered life is in the direct contrast to the life of the servant classes, for whom life is never simple. And yet, the two inevitably intertwine, particularly in Antonina’s relationship with Lilya, her personal maid and with her steward, Grisha. The illicit nature of sexual desire and the overwhelming need for revenge runs like a thread throughout the novel and yet the theme of social change is never far from the surface.
Overall, I thought that the book was a well written account of a troubled period in Russian history; a place where the prosperity of its aristocracy was juxtaposed against the wretched poverty of its serfdom. The richness of the landscape and the proud inheritance of a nation steeped in both history and intrigue comes alive in a story that seems to thrive on conspiracy and mystery. By necessity, the content of the book focuses on a rather bleak time; however, there were some lovely light touches in the narrative, particularly in the musical references, which offered a little light relief from the overall tragedy of the novel.
The Lost Souls of Angelkov works well as a social observation and is a fascinating read if you like historical fiction about the consequences and effects of momentous social and political change.