Published 2011, Agate Beach Press, ISBN: 978-0-9837711-0-4, 670 pages

Destinies commences in 1766 and has parallel aspects throughout:  the life of Katherine II and the adventures of Christian, aged 14, a German immigrant.

Katherine II, her mother-in-law deceased and her husband conveniently dead in an “accident”, has progressive plans for Russia.  On her agenda is colonization of eastern lands with German immigrants courtesy of the Russian treasury.

In Rhineland, Germany, villagers meet to discuss Katherine’s proposal.  Germany is a war-ravished country on the verge of starvation.  The princes of Germany demand taxes citizens are unable to pay.  Twenty-four families accept Katherine’s invitation and sign the official documentation.

Thus begins a harrowing journey to Russia, which separates the villagers from everything familiar and loved ones forever.  The challenges are not over upon their arrival.  Seemingly insurmountable obstacles – the lay of the land, lack of housing, apportionment of lots, cruel Russian winters, regulations and restrictions – threaten their survival.

We watch Christian struggle to come to terms with life in Russia, mourn the loss of his best friend and horse, rail against life’s unfairness, witness atrocities, take on heavy responsibilities beyond his age and mature into a young man.  Through Christian we see the development of a community where once only bare land existed.

Morrow excels at depicting Katherine, with her political strengths and personal flaws.  A woman determined to forge a new and prosperous Russia, who quells rebellions and vanquishes threats to her throne, yet cannot live without adoration and prodigious expenditures.  These personality conflicts will bring Russia and Katherine to the very brink, and sweep Christian and his fellow immigrants into the path of destruction.

At approximately 670 pages, one could maybe assume the novel will bog down at some point.  Morrow writes so beautifully that even the more mundane events, such as Christian learning to trap, holds your interest.  Morrow clearly portrays the daily events of an immigrant community, along with portentous happenings.

Destinies is described as an epic novel.  I am usually leery of the word “epic”.   Oftentimes, the “epic novel” disappoints.  Not so with Destinies.  Morrow has written a complex, intricately woven novel that fulfills the definition of “epic”.

I have only 2 concerns with Destinies; the novels opens with two different prologues, one Katherine’s and the other Christian’s, written in 1st person point of view.  The remainder of the novel is then written from a 3rd person point of view.  I was a little disconcerted in the beginning and unsure of who was exactly who for a bit.

The other time I felt discombobulated was the ending.  It seemed to drift off without a clear division between the actual end and what would pass for author’s notes.

Despite these minor hitches, I wholeheartedly loved Destinies and unreservedly recommend this novel.

Karleene Morrow is an extremely talented writer.  I am so impressed with her prowess with the written word, I can honestly say Morrow is on par with today’s pre-eminent historical fiction authors.

As a bonus, Karleene was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule and answer a few questions.  Thank you, Karleene!

What inspired you to research and write about this particular  time in Russia’s history?

In the case of Destinies ideas started percolating in my mind while doing genealogy, researching my family history.  My grandfather was from Krasnoyar, place setting of Destinies, and grandmother was from nearby village of Enders, a village also in the book. I traced their roots back to the 1766 voyage of our young ancestor who answered Katherine’s invitation to leave Germany and relocate in Russia.

Knowing at least that much challenged me to learn more about that event in history, which interestingly the Russians denied.  For years they maintained that the Germans had never been there. The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln Nebraska, had believed there were records somewhere and continued to press. A country as innately suspicious as Russia was sure to have meticulous records on everyone who ever entered their country.

Eventually they gave in and brought a railroad car out of Siberia loaded with damp records, some ruined. It has taken the AHSGR years to translate those records. I’m not certain that they have yet completed that huge task.

How long did the research take?

I worked at the colonists’ side of the research over several years, the genealogy studies first and then beyond.  The genealogy search was for my ancestral family, difficult enough trying to deal with Russia, their resistance to cooperate and also the language barrier.

When I started, genealogy was almost non-existent on the internet and my early research involved a lot of waiting for replies by regular mail.  On the other side, the story of the Germans from Russia ended up being vast. The research on the colonists led me to an interest in Katherine herself (Catherine the Great) and that was another year of reading and searching for everything I could find about her.

How long did it take you to write Destinies?

I wish I knew.  I would write awhile and then either put the manuscript on the shelf for one reason or another, or I’d stop to go research something and get lost in the research itself, a trap for lovers of history.  I tend to write fairly rapidly, and rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite) more slowly.

Unfortunately, there were times when it sat on the shelf for long periods, life getting in the way—family, career.  Eventually though I sold my building and tax accounting practice and my life turned a corner. Suddenly I had time to write.  I also have show Pomeranians, so that did interfere but I think I just went to my last show. Now it should come down to taking care of my dogs, my house and my next book.

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MY RATING: 4.8/5 Stars

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