Red Mistress

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Published by: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: July 21, 2020
ISBN13: 978-1542006514



In the spring of 1914, Nadia Shulkina, the daughter of Russian aristocrats, looks toward a bright future. She has no premonitions of war, let alone the revolution that is about to destroy her comfortable world.

Her once-noble family is stripped of every possession, and more terrible losses soon follow. To save what’s left of her family and future, Nadia marries a zealous Bolshevik in an act of calculated reinvention.

It won’t be her last.

When she agrees to work undercover for the Soviets in 1920s Paris, Nadia is drawn into a beautiful yet treacherous world of secrets and deceit. Beset by conflicting loyalties and tested by a forbidden love affair, she becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that ends with a shocking murder. What chances will she take to determine her own fate?

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I’d been raised speaking French, reading French, even dreaming in French. When I arrived in Paris for the first time, stepping out from the clamor of Gare de l’Est, it felt surprisingly familiar. As if a land I’d dreamed of turned out to be real.

And as in a dream, I wasn’t myself. According to my passport, I was a Frenchwoman named Marie Duvall.

I hailed a taxi and gave the driver an address on Rue de Grenelle. Astoundingly, the city looked as I’d always imagined: grand facades flanking equally grand boulevards; a chaotic ballet of automobiles, buses and dogged pedestrians; flashes of manicured green gardens amid the gray. Signs over shop windows made me hungry with longing. Boulangerie. Patisserie. Even sounding out the names in my head felt indulgent.

But what struck me most were the faces. In Moscow, people looked downward or forward, their expressions determinedly blank. Here, they were laughing and scowling, amused and imperious—expressive in a way that seemed almost indecent. There were glimpses of misery, too, like the legless beggars wearing the tattered remains of uniforms. But compared to Moscow’s cool efficiency, Paris felt bracingly alive.


Book Club Discussion Questions

1.  How much did you know about the Russian Revolution before reading Red Mistress? Did you learn anything that surprised you?

2.  Red Mistress alternates between Nadia’s story and documents from a British investigation in 1938. What did you think of this structure? Did you guess how “Marie Duvall” was related to Nadia?

3.  Nadia describes her parents as “comically mismatched.” What qualities did Nadia inherit from her mother and father? How did they help her survive in the years after her father’s death?

4.  Discuss Nadia’s relationship with her brother Vasily. Should she have confronted him for taking advantage of the peasant girl at Priyalko? In what ways did their older brother/younger sister dynamic change over the course of the novel?

5.  Nadia believes she has to marry Alek to keep her brother safe, but she also admires his ambitious self-confidence. What did you think of her decision? Why do you think he wanted to marry her?

6.  At the beginning of the novel, Sergei and Alek are both radicals who believe Russia needs dramatic change. However, their lives take very different paths once the Revolution becomes a reality. How do they represent two different kinds of “revolutionaries?” Did you ever believe in something passionately when you were younger, only to question it later in life?

7.  What did you think of Nadia’s relationship with Lee? Can two people really fall in love if they are both hiding such big secrets from each other? Were you happy with the way their story was resolved at the end?

8.  In Paris, Nadia is forced to spy for Alek while also trying to protect her cousin Mikhail. Should she have warned Mikhail that she was working for the Soviet government? Did you have any theories about the “Patriot” plot, and were you surprised when you found out the truth?

9.  Why was Miss Fields such a crucial figure in Nadia’s childhood? How do the two women help each other heal at the end of the book?  

10.  Nadia is drawn to Lee’s Paris apartment—and later, his country house—because they remind her of Priyalko. Why does Priyalko hold a special meaning for her? Is there a house or place from your childhood that you still feel an emotional connection to?