Narrated by her closest friend, this novel recounts the life of Xenia Grigoryevna, patron saint of St. Petersburg. After Xenia loses her family at a tender age, she becomes a singer in the Imperial choir, marries a handsome military officer, and -- in the wake of a terrible, fateful vision -- loses him, along with their child. Reeling from the tragedy, Xenia relinquishes all her worldly possessions and takes to the streets, where she ministers to the poor. Alas, Xenia's behavior as a "holy fool" incurs the displeasure of the royal family, who view her actions as a criticism of their extravagant lifestyle. Readers interested in 18th-century courtly life in Russia may also want to check out Eva Stachniak's The Winter Palace
, which traces Catherine the Great's rise to power.