Friday, March 28, 2008

The Kitchen Boy

Robert Alexander’s The Kitchen Boy is a fictionalized account of the Romanovs’ last days. Several historical records mention a kitchen boy working for Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra during their captivity in Yekaterinburg. These references inspired the novel.

Misha is the kitchen boy. In the late 1990s, he lives in the United States and has recently lost his wife. Before dying himself, he makes a tape for his granddaughter, explaining exactly what happened to the Romanovs on the days preceding and immediately following their murders.

I was fascinated by the account, particularly since most of my background on the topic comes directly from the animated feature Anastasia.

Alexander humanizes the royal family but also holds them accountable for much of Russia’s recent history. Indeed, Misha suggests if the royal family had acted differently, had been more in tune with the country, they could have prevented Stalin’s eventual reign of terror and spared the lives of millions.

Despite their heavy historical responsibility, despite knowing their fates, I irrationally hoped the family, particularly the children, would escape and was horrified by the manner of their deaths. The women had hidden jewels in their corsets. When the firing squad shot at the princesses, the bullets ricocheted off the gems, prolonging their deaths.

Unfortunately, the book’s ending goes astray, pushing reality so much I could no longer suspend my disbelief. Like Alexander’s Rasputin’s Daughter, though, Kitchen Boy inspired me to research further to discover how much of Alexander’s account was based on fact and what we really know about those last few days. Despite the obvious liberties Alexander takes, the book does not claim to be anything but fiction; it is well written and certainly entertaining.

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