Fiction — print. Viking, 2006. 298 pgs. Borrowed from my mom.
Probably the best known aspect of Russian history is the downfall and assassination of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, son and heir Alexei, and their daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. The removal of Russia’s Imperial family has been attributed to a variety of factors, but none has attracted so much attention and been surrounded by so many myths as the role of Grigori Rasputin, a Russian peasant and “holy man”. Rasputin was beloved by Tsarina Alexandra as she accredited him with healing Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia without public knowledge, on numerous occasions.
Rather than tackling the man and the myth from the viewpoint of Rasputin, Alexandra, or Anastasia (all the typical actors), Alexander explores the events surrounding the downfall of the Imperial family and the death of Rasputin through the eyes of his daughter Matryona, also known as Maria. Along with her younger sister Varvara, Rasputin’s favorite child moves from a village in Siberia to St. Petersburg and quickly becomes concerned about the true nature of her father’s “holy acts” and his relationship with the Tsarina.
This fictionalized account of Maria’s life is told as a series of recollections after Rasputin’s death and the death of Tsar and his family. The Bolsheviks are desperate the learn the truth about these two events, worried that the resurrection of either person or a challenge to their perfectly constructed narrative will cause them to loose their own tender grip on power. Perhaps the most poignant moment of this tale is when Maria reaches this conclusion for herself.
My enjoyment of this novel cannot entirely be attributed to Alexander’s writing, rather I think it stems from the rather novel idea that other people (i.e. not Anastasia) might have thoughts, feelings, and information about these events that are worthy of exploration. Alexander’s ability to weave a complete picture of Russia in the 1910s means I was able to construct a vivid image in my head. The snippets of Russian did not entirely flow within this novel, but the well-developed characters made for an engaging and enjoyable read.