The Story Behind LARA’S GIFT
The setting in Lara’s Gift is based on a real place in Russia where some of the best borzoi dogs originated. Anyone who knows borzoi understands how pervasive the Woronzova kennel was in its time, as well as how it influenced contemporary borzoi lines of today. The famous Woronzova kennel once owned by Count Artemii Vorontsov and situated on his grand country estate in Vorontsovka, Russia no longer exists in the way it once did. In my research I contacted Count Artemii Vorontsov’s great-great-great-nephew, Professor Alexander Woronzoff-Dashkoff, a superb researcher in his own right, to fill in some gaps. He was not only generous giving me family insights, but he also offered to read Lara’s Gift when I finished writing it. It was the scariest thing I did before sending Lara’s Gift to my editor. I was so proud of his response I carried his letter with me for a year and insisted that it become the afterword in Lara’s Gift. It gives me boundless pleasure to share it with you on my webpage.
Artemii Vorontsov (Woronzoff), my great-great-great-uncle, loved his daughter Praskovia so much that in her dowry he included Vorontsova (Woronzova), a family estate in the province of Tambov, in central Russia. It was a beautiful place with a tree-lined entrance leading to a large, two-story house. Situated on the high banks of the Tsna River, it was surrounded by a large park with cascading ponds leading to the river below. The estate was comprised of the stone manor house, a church, outbuildings, greenhouses, stables, the kennels, and other dependencies.
Praskovia gave the estate to her daughter Elizabeth and it was her son, Artemii Boldyrev (named for his great-grandfather Artemii Vorontsov) who bred at Vorontsova the famous line of magnificent white borzoi. Artemii’s wife, Maria, also took a keen interest in the dogs. She was an excellent horsewoman and often participated in the hunt.
Today, only the park remains. The estate has disappeared and so have its owners, victims of revolutions, wars, and the great political and social changes in Russia during the twentieth century. A small museum in the neighboring village of Vorontsovka preserves the memory of the families and dogs that once lived there.
In Lara’s Gift, Annemarie O’Brien also preserves the past by submerging us in a time and place that is now gone and where we are held captive by its beauty and elegance, as well as its contradictions and inequalities. She vividly reconstructs everyday estate life—the echoes of distant church bells, the sounding of the horn, the stark cruelty of the hunt, and the joys and pain of birth. But most of all, she presents us with a young girl’s strength, perseverance, and enduring love for her dog.
Author of Dashkova: A Life of Influence and Exile
Professor of Russian