Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Romonov Bride

Robert Alexander returns again to the Romanovs in his most recent novel, The Romanov Bride. This time, he focuses on the Grand Duchess Elisabeth “Ella” Fyodorovna, the older sister of Tsarina Alexandra, and Pavel, a fictional revolutionary.

The book alternates chapters between Ella and Pavel’s perspectives. Ella reacts to the Russian Revolution and the assassination of her husband, the Governor General of Moscow, by retreating from her aristocratic roots and founding an abbey, hospital, and orphanage. Pavel reacts to the poverty of the peasant and the murder of his wife by becoming a revolutionary and assassinator.

Although Ella and Pavel come from different worlds and follow different paths, Alexander presents them both realistically and sympathetically. Ella ultimately devotes herself to charity, yet she spent most of her life surrounded by extreme opulence while the common man rotted in poverty around her. Pavel hopes for a better, more equal Russia yet murders gratuitously to achieve this goal.

With Bride, Alexander once again crafts a fascinating historical narrative in the likes of The Kitchen Boy and Rasputin’s Daughter. In this case, though, he remains more faithful to the historical record and avoids the surprise endings of his previous novels. I was disappointed by Alexander’s manipulation of truth in these novels, but in this case, I hoped for a happy ending that simply does not exist.

I am continually intrigued by the tragic nature of Russian history. Millions have suffered—or inflicted suffering—whether governed by tsar or dictator. Considering the current political situation, I can’t help but wonder how much has really changed.

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