Excerpt from Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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

Forty Rooms

by Olga Grushin

Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin X
Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Feb 2016, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


I am about to tiptoe out when the mermaid looks up and beckons me toward her.

"Do you want me to show you?" she asks.

Her voice is like my mother's, but her eyes are not: they too are green, but their shifting depths lack the familiar misty softness; they glitter instead with joyous, hard brilliance, just like the brilliance I can already see trapped inside the jewelry box.

Now and then there are strange creatures to be stumbled upon in my mother's bedroom – it is my parents' bedroom really, but I have always thought of it as my mother's alone – yet the mermaid makes me uneasy. She seems almost dangerous, more unpredictable than any of the others, not in the least like the kindly plump woman in the oval painting above the armchair who rambles about Brussels lace and satin slippers at teatime, or the two yellow-winged fairies who every spring morning slide down the sunbeams onto the dresser to splash in my mother's perfume bottles, or the man smiling with bright white teeth under a wiry mustache who used to pay afternoon calls the summer I was five. (I liked him best of all because once or twice, just before he gently pushed me out into the hallway and locked the door behind me, he had given me a chocolate candy bar in crinkly wrappers with unfamiliar letters on the side, and also because he possessed magic powers and was invisible to everyone but me. "That child has such a wild imagination," my mother said laughing gaily after I had mentioned the visitor with the mustache one night at supper, and my father laughed too, though not as gaily, and ruffled my hair. I felt offended at not being believed, but more than that, I regretted letting go of something that had been mine and mine alone: I found that I liked having secrets all my own. After that, I never said anything to anyone about the things I saw in my mother's bedroom.)

The mermaid has already forgotten about me. She is staring into the box, moving her fingers over the velvet insides, as if remembering some tune she once played on a piano. I sit down on the edge of the bed, elated but wary. The mermaid begins to speak, but she is not speaking to me; she caresses this or that ring, this or that pendant, and tells long, winding tales I cannot follow.

"These cupid earrings," she says, "have been in the family for four generations. Your great-grandmother received them as a sign of special favor from the tsar's youngest uncle. He had them presented to her the night she premiered as Dulcinea. She had gifts from many men, of course, but this was the only thing she held on to when forced to sell off all her possessions in the civil war. One wonders why she kept them. She struggled so to feed her children, and the earrings would have brought in bread enough to last a month. But women in this family have always had their mysteries . . ." She pauses to take a sip from a nearly empty glass of dark red liquid on my mother's nightstand. "Of course, it was well after her Dulcinea days that she married your great-grandfather and had your grandfather and the twins. But could there have been more to the Grand Duke anecdote? No one to ask about it now – all that's left are two enamel cupids, half a rumor, and maybe, just maybe, a thimble of royal blood."

"Is this my great-grandmother the ballet dancer?" I ask, confused. "And who is Dulcinea? And what is a thimble?" – but she does not answer, only lightly trails her fingers over the golden fire imprisoned in the box, and goes on talking.

"And see this ring? See how the emerald is uncut, rough and enormous, like some green, misshapen bird's egg? This came from an ancient icon, from one of those priceless frames set with stones big as rocks. So many were vandalized in the revolution, hacked apart, hidden by drunks in rotting village coffers. Your grandfather got the emerald at the end of the war, traded it from another soldier for a length of smoked sausage and a box of German sweets, then kept it for years in an empty salt shaker. Eventually he had it set for Elena, your grandmother – a simple pewter setting, he could afford nothing more."

Excerpted from Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin. Copyright © 2016 by Olga Grushin. 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" articles
  • 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 $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Unusual Literary Devices

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.25 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
    Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
    by Clare Pooley
    For the many years that I've been reading, one realization has always come to mind for me after ...
  • Book Jacket: We Had to Remove This Post
    We Had to Remove This Post
    by Hanna Bervoets
    It's not about money. Kayleigh, the protagonist and narrator of We Had to Remove This Post, a newly ...
  • Book Jacket: River of the Gods
    River of the Gods
    by Candice Millard
    The Nile River has provided vital resources for millennia, serving as a source of water, food and ...
  • Book Jacket: Horse
    Horse
    by Geraldine Brooks
    Geraldine Brooks creates a powerful backstory for 19th-century thoroughbred racehorse Lexington, ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Hamnet
by Maggie O'Farrell
"Of all the stories...about Shakespeare’s life, [Hamnet] is so gorgeously written that it transports you."
The Boston Globe

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    One's Company
    by Ashley Hutson

    For readers of Ottessa Moshfegh this fearless debut chronicles one woman's escape into a world of obsessive imagination.

  • Book Jacket

    Jackie & Me
    by Louis Bayard

    Master storyteller Louis Bayard delivers a surprising portrait of a young Jackie Kennedy as we've never seen her before.

Win This Book!
Win Where the Crawdads Sing

Win a signed copy of Where the Crawdads Sing

In celebration of the movie release on July 15, we have three signed copies to give away.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T O Thing W H T F I F I

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 the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.