by Robert Alexander
London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2007
ISBN: 978-0-14-303865-8

Comments by Bob Corbett
October 2009

This is an historical novel of the last days of Rasputin at the hands of Russian Revolutionaries. I have no idea how accurate it is since the life and understanding of the historical Rasputin is still much in doubt. I read the novel mainly to get a fictional account and see how he was presented.

The frame of the novel is clever. It is four months after Rasputin’s murder and his 18 year old daughter is brought before Aleksandrovich Blok, formerly one of her favorite poets, now an interrogator for the Revolution. He wants to know the details of Rasputin’s last days.

And that is what Maria provides. It is a interesting tale, clear enough but not brilliantly written. Maria, the older of his two daughters, has her own questions about who her father really is, and thus she’s was trying to figure out these things before his murder. This device of the novel gives her a keen insight on who her father is, at least as she sees it and understands it.

It’s isn’t a great book, and it was a rather quick read, but I enjoyed it. I can’t say I really learned much, but I did get a fairly coherent view of one side of it. I did like the fact that Robert Alexander, the author, decided to present Rasputin as a difficult character to classify. One can certainly see him on this account as both a phony and scoundrel, and as a legitimate occult figure with a serious impact on the Russian monarchy and thus on Russia itself. I enjoyed that mixed portrait, and it does fit many historical accounts.

Also, there was an interesting little insight into the interrogation itself. What is the use of such interrogations? The reply is – propaganda, the powerful tool of control. While that claim hasn’t much to do with the Rasputin story it did seem to be a claim of great insight into much of larger world of politics over the centuries in all places. Why do such an interrogation of his daughter?

“ . . . all in the hopes not of simply getting information but of unearthing scandal. Scandal that we could plant like dangerous propaganda. After all, don’t you think fear and rumor and innuendo are ….

“More powerful than the mightiest cannon?

“Yes. Absolutely.”

I was interested in Alexander’s character’s claims on the origin of the family name “Rasputin.”

Maria tells us: “Didn’t they know that the name Rasputin was not derived from the word rasputnik a debauched, dissolute, immoral person, but from rasputiye an intersection of roads? Again, I don’t know if that is accurate, but it fits very much the conflicting view of Rasputin that Alexander chooses to portray in the novel.

I’m not sure I would “highly” recommend the novel, but it is a quick read and interesting. It does present a rather complex or at least two-sided view of Rasputin. That I enjoyed seeing argued and presented.

One other claim about Petersburg itself very much surprised me. I always see these various scenes of Russian cities with the gigantic squares and boulevards and had always assumed these were some very specially “Russian.” Alexander claims otherwise:

“In December, however, the planned boulevards and prospeckti of the capital – so uncomfortably non-Russian … “

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu