MLA Gold Award Site

Excerpt from Glorious Misadventures by Owen Matthews, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Glorious Misadventures

Nikolai Rezanov and the Dream of a Russian America

by Owen Matthews

Glorious Misadventures
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2013, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 400 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


'Your Excellency perhaps may laugh at my far-reaching plans, but I am certain that they will prove exceedingly profitable ventures. If we had men and means even without any great sacrifice on the part of the treasury all this country could be made a corporeal part of the Russian Empire,' Rezanov wrote to his patron the minister of commerce after his return from California in 1806. 'Not through petty enterprise but by great undertakings have mighty commercial bodies achieved rank and power.'


The betrothal of Rezanov and Conchita Arguello on the shores of the Pacific marked the closing of a circle. The Spanish and the Russian empires had been working their way towards each other since the late fifteenth century. Spain had sent its conquistadors west to the New World of the Americas; Russia had dispatched Cossack adventurers east into the wildernesses of north Asia. The Spaniard Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first Westerner to set eyes on the Pacific Ocean, crossing the Isthmus of Panama in 1513. One hundred and twenty years later the Russian fur trapper Ivan Moskvitin crested the ridge of the Okhotsk Mountains and gazed eastwards at the same ocean. American gold fuelled a century of Spain's European wars and the glory of the court of Madrid, while Siberia's 'soft gold' – fur – paid for campaigns against the Swedes, Turks and Tatars as the Russians carved themselves an empire and a place on the European stage. And now the two empires had finally met, with the hungry Russians regarding the fat and ill-defended Spanish lands of California with greedy eyes.

Of the two fledgling European colonies on America's northern Pacific coast at the dawn of the nineteenth century, it was New Archangel, not San Francisco, which was the more populous and better defended. Ships were built on New Archangel's slipways and Boston traders regularly stopped in for news and supplies. Spanish San Francisco, in comparison, had a garrison of just forty soldiers and no docks when Rezanov visited in 1806. The Spanish governor of Nueva California told Rezanov that 'the Spanish Court feared Russia above all the other powers'.

For Rezanov, not to seize the territory would be a crime against posterity. 'If we allow it to slip through our fingers, what will succeeding generations say?' he wrote. 'I, at least, shall not be arraigned before them in judgement.'


Any historian who sets out to search for a hero will almost inevitably uncover something of the scoundrel. Heroism, it seems, is visible only through a long lens. And so it was with Rezanov. I followed the man's shade from the boulevards and palaces of St Petersburg to the squat rain-dripping counting houses of Pskov, where he passed a dreary provincial apprenticeship. Travelling by train, coal truck and bouncing Lada, I tracked him from the Siberian city of Irkutsk, once the capital of Russia's wild east, into the land of the Buryats and to the borders of China. I crunched along the black sand beaches of Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka and the black sand beaches of Kodiak Island, Alaska, at opposite ends of the Pacific. I stood in the remains of the presidio where Rezanov had danced with Conchita and shivered in the rain on the windy outcrop known as Castle Rock in Sitka, once the citadel of New Archangel, where he had spent the cold, hungry winter of 1805–6. And I spent hours – many hours, since Rezanov was a bureaucrat, a courtier and an ambassador who wrote something almost every day of his life – in the company of the reports, diaries and letters in which Rezanov described his ideas and circumstances voluminously, but his feelings only barely. It is only in the last three years of his life, far from home and viciously bullied by the officers of the round-the-world voyage he believed he was commanding, that the man himself begins to emerge from the officialese, indignant and in pain.

Excerpted from Glorious Misadventures by Owen Matthews. Copyright © 2013 by Owen Matthews. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: City of Secrets
    City of Secrets
    by Stewart O'Nan
    In his new novel, City of Secrets, Stewart O'Nan spins a tale of espionage and intrigue as ...
  • Book Jacket: The Atomic Weight of Love
    The Atomic Weight of Love
    by Elizabeth Church
    A prologue set in 2011 introduces readers to this novel's unforgettable narrator. Meridian ...
  • Book Jacket: Murder at the 42nd Street Library
    Murder at the 42nd Street Library
    by Con Lehane
    It doesn't matter if you're stopping in your favorite library to quickly pick up a book, or settling...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Alaskan Laundry
    by Brendan Jones

    A fresh debut novel about a young woman who moves to Alaska and finds herself through the hard work of fishing.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Win this book!
Win The Children

From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary

The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.

Enter

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I A Greek T M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.