Home Events Biography Chapter One Order

Critical acclaim for Lady of the Snakes

Mojo Mom recommends Lady of the Snakes for summer reading.

The Philadelphia Examiner on Rachel.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is enchanted by Lady of the Snakes.

Ellen Steinbaum Lady of the Snakes: now in paperback

The Modern Book Club No Need to Fear Snakes

Fresh Air's Maureen Corrigan says Lady of the Snakes is her pick for Best Summer Reading of 2008

Listen to a podcast of the "Motherhood Panel" held at the Free Library of Philadelphia in May, 2008.

The Southeast Review interviews Rachel

Wisconsin Public Radio's To the Best of Our Knowledge did a show on motherhood that includes an interview with Rachel

The Montserrat Review   names Lady of the Snakes Best Novel of 2008: Best reading for Summer

Eclectica : reviews Lady of the Snakes

Powell's Review-a-Day

Endless Knots reviews Rachel's reading with her mother, Linda Pastan

Boston NOW   interviews Rachel

A Novel Read says Lady of the Snakes "...accurately portrays the position of strong-minded female academics...this is an excellent book"

The Capital Times on the novel's Madison milieu

The Lilith Blog : mentions Lady of the Snakes

in Pearl's Picks And also on Washington State public radio.

Any young (or not so young) mother trying to traverse the mommy track will have many aha! moments while reading this consistently entertaining novel, plus it's a great choice for those looking for intelligent, nicely written, character-driven novels.

Babble blog : for your book group

The Washington Post says, "...her characters are luminescent."

Philadelphia Inquirer : "Swarthmore Writer's Comic Novel Has it All and Then Some".

Amy Tiemann's blog, MojoMom, has some nice commentary on the book.
And a podcast interview with Rachel.

Entertainment Weekly : A-.

in Bookpage

Rachel Pastan's 2004 debut novel, This Side of Married, chronicled the attempts of a well-meaning but pushy mother to manipulate the love lives of her three grown daughters, with often humorous results. Her latest novel, The Lady of the Snakes, delves into one woman's attempt to have the proverbial "all"—a loving husband, an adorable, precocious child and a rewarding and stimulating job.

Jane Levitsky is a talented, intense and exceptionally dedicated graduate student in 19th-century Russian literature, her specific area of interest being the novels of Grigory Karkov, considered a minor but immensely gifted writer, and the oft-overlooked diaries written by his wife Masha. Jane's dissertation argues that the heroines in Karkov's novels are varying, mostly uncomplimentary, versions of his wife; she has begun sifting through Masha's diaries for evidence to support her case. Jane's husband, Billy, a middle-school teacher, does his best to share the childrearing duties after their unplanned first child Maisie is born, but her research is, for the most part, put on hold. Pastan's depiction of Jane through these early months of parenthood is dead-on, as her emotions jump erratically from elation over her newborn daughter to depression over her inability to make any progress on her dissertation—feelings with which many readers will empathize.

Things only get worse after the family moves to Madison when Jane gets her first teaching position at the University of Wisconsin. Billy is in law school, and Jane struggles to prepare her courses, find just the right daycare for Maisie, and continue her research into Masha's "rich, tangled, private, sometimes cryptic" diaries. Woven into this saga of familial woes is an intriguing second thread—a literary thriller filled with subterfuge and backstabbing, as Jane discovers information about Karkov that could damage not only his reputation, but that of his biographers, some of whom are Jane's colleagues. This winning sophomore novel brings unexpected twists to the familiar theme of the difficulties inherent in the struggle to balance motherhood and a professional career.

—Deborah Donovan

in Booklist

Jane Levitsky, an expert in the writings of Russian writer Grigory Karkov, is newly appointed as a professor of Slavics at the University of Madison. She is also new to the demands of motherhood and finds it increasingly difficult to balance her new workload with the ongoing attention required by baby daughter Maisie and husband Billy. What begins as her pet research project on the diaries of Masha Karkova, wife of Karkov, increasingly becomes a form of escape—Levitsky immerses herself in the plight of the true Lady of the Snakes, and the parallels between Masha's nineteenth-century life develop steadily. When her studies unravel the true origin of Karkov's work, the literary mystery takes a turn that threatens to derail both the Karkov canon and her own marriage. The narrative switches between both protagonists, which exacerbates both the obvious affinity between these women along with the overwhelming sense of deja vu. Writing an honest and intimate account of the demands on the contemporary working mother, Pastan expertly delivers an intriguing detective story with a clever academic twist.

—Catherine English

in Publishers Weekly

The woes of being a scholarly mom are highlighted in this highbrow chick lit entry from Pastan (This Side of Married). Jane Levitsky's research concerns Maria (Masha) Karkova, the fictional, gifted wife of the fictional philandering genius of 19th-century Russian literature, Grigory Karkov. Jane is in her first year of a tenure-track job at the competitive University of Wisconsin-Madison as she struggles to untangle the web of intrigue surrounding Masha and Grigory. Husband Billy has moved with her from California along with toddler daughter Maisie, but Jane doesn't have much time for either of them, a fact of which live-in nanny Felicia is well aware. Further, Jane's office is next door to the professor she has been hired to replace, the irascible but charming Otto Sigelman, who was responsible for bringing Karkov's literary works to light; though he's meant to be retired, Otto is still very much invested in the reputation of his literary hero, and Jane's researches may be a threat. Fast-paced, well-written and entertaining, Pastan's latest has a winning feminist twist and should turn up in more than a few faculty lounges.

in Library Journal

Having it all-motherhood, a career, a loving husband, and good friends-is a goal for many women. That is certainly the case for Jane Levitsky. Working toward her Ph.D. in the field of 19th-century Russian literature, Jane is especially passionate about the novels of Grigory Karkov and the diaries of his wife, Masha. Even after giving birth to a daughter, Maisie, she can't imagine leaving the world of the Karkovs. But then Jane and her husband relocate to Madison, WI, for her first academic post, and her dream world begins to crumble. Jane uncovers information about Masha that she believes could change how the world views Grigory's work. As she hunts down the literary clues to verify her hunch, her home life is torn asunder. Pastan (This Side of Married) has crafted an interesting take on modern life and women who try to have it all. She intersperses her narrative with excerpts detailing the lives of women in 19th-century Russia, creating a juxtaposition of cultural mores between the past and the present. Recommended for most public libraries.

—Robin Nesbitt

Back to top.

Home Events Biography Chapter One Order