The Imperial Wife

The Imperial Wife is about marriage. What happens to a marriage—or even an entire nation—when a wife is more powerful than her husband?

The novel follows the lives of two women, one in contemporary New York City and the other in eighteenth-century Russia. Tanya Kagan, a specialist in Russian art at a top New York auction house, is trying to entice Russia’s wealthy oligarchs to bid on the biggest sale of her career, The Order of Saint Catherine, while making sense of the sudden and unexplained departure of her husband. As questions arise over the provenance of the Order and auction fever kicks in, we are immersed into the world of Catherine the Great, the infamous 18th-century woman who may have owned the priceless artifact, and who it turns out, faced many of the same issues Tanya wrestles with in her own life. The Imperial Wife asks what female ambition means, today and in the past, and whether a marriage can withstand an ambitious wife.


  • Dazzling and insanely ambitious.

    Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure

  • I literally could not put down Irina Reyn’s The Imperial Wife. The manner in which this author is able to switch back and forth between the dwindling marriage of a contemporary New York couple and the domestic life of Catherine the Great is nothing less than masterful. When I finished the book, I was both sorry it was over and overwhelmed with this author’s skill. This is the most satisfying novel I’ve read in a long, long time.

    Katie Crouch, author of Girls in Trucks and Abroad

  • A smart, engaging novel, Reyn writes beautifully of immigrants, art and the vagaries of love.

    Jess Walter, author of the New York Times bestseller, Beautiful Ruins

  • Prepare to be absorbed and transported.

    Elin Hilderbrand, bestselling author of The Rumor

  • An imaginative, thrilling, and exquisite novel.

    Kaui Hart Hemmings, New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants

  • Witty and compassionate, lyrical and sharp, a deeply intelligent and expansive novel. I loved it.

    Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans

  • Full of brilliant observation and beautiful writing.

    Roxana Robinson, author of Sparta

  • An absorbing and ingeniously layered novel that seamlessly braids Russian royalty from queens to oligarchs with the darker truths of New York’s sparkling art auctions.

    Carol Cassella, bestselling author of Oxygen and Gemini

  • Readers are treated to fabulous set pieces as the plot moves from the glittering Saint Petersburg court in the eighteenth century to an opulent party in the company of Russian oligarchs along the modern Côte d’Azur. With its sharp characterizations and unexpected twists, Reyn’s novel keeps readers on their toes. Both women elicit compassion due to their position as outsiders, and their stories intertwine in playful and profound ways.


  • A twist at the end pulls the stories together in a satisfying manner. The stories of two eras and two marriages are related in evocative language steeped in keenly observed details.


  • The parallels between the heroines are neat and unforced…if the clever Reyn convinces us to appreciate the historical Catherine as a modern woman, she also encourages us to second-guess the thoroughly modern and undauntable Tanya.

    Christian Science Monitor

  • Reyn cleverly weaves Tanya’s story around that of young Catherine’s [Catherine the Great]. Both suffer because they possess certain qualities—ambition, decisiveness, sangfroid—that society expects from powerful men but finds suspicious in women.

  • Two boss women living in very different time periods in history – modern-day New York City and 18th-century Russia – are connected through the ages by their shared obsession with a priceless piece of royal bling.

    Cosmopolitan magazine

  • [Reyn] is a master of creating realistic and nuanced female characters.

    The Washington Post

  • Reyn's mesmerizing new novel['s]...dual storylines are each intriguing, while the novel skips easily between past and present, leaving readers with more knowledge about Russia (imperial and present day), visual art, auction houses and the lives of the very rich. But its greatest accomplishment is making the inner lives of two fascinating women known...As a fast-paced novel, it's a great read, but as a meditation on what it means to be woman, it's transcendent.

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • The Russians are coming in this ingeniously structured novel that travels between a present-day art specialist handling the biggest sale of her career and the 18th-century court life of the woman who becomes Catherine the Great.

    O: Oprah Magazine, Reading Room Top 10

  • To explain the relationship between Tanya’s narrative of her own life and Carl’s Young Catherine — received by the critics with praise for the male author’s keen insights into the subjectivity of a young woman — is to give away too much of Reyn’s intricately plotted and engagingly written literary mystery.

    Los Angeles Review of Books

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