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Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Kitchen Boy


Review of The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander

Overview from Drawing from decades of work, travel, and research in Russia, Robert Alexander re-creates the tragic, perennially fascinating story of the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov as seen through the eyes of their young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanovs’ brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family. Does he hold the key to the many questions surrounding the family’s murder? Historically vivid and compelling, The Kitchen Boy is also a touching portrait of a loving family that was in many ways similar, yet so different, from any other.

My Review:

Today we have the story of the boy who witnessed the demise and execution of the entire Romanov family. This is the fictional account of the author through his main character, a boy named Leonka.

The boy named Leonka grew up to become a man named Misha and Misha immigrated, along with his wife, to the United States. He was/is fabulously wealthy thanks to a stash of Romanov jewels that he managed to bring away from the scene of the crime.

And now, when he is old and dying, he decides to come clean about his involvement in the crime as well as his failure to protect the family.

Before committing suicide, he sits down with a tape recorder and details his confession of what happened during those last days of the Romanov’s and their heirs. His role in the House of Special Purpose and in their death is detailed for her to hear, after he has gone.

But when she returns to Russia, his granddaughter, Katya, has more questions than answers. This is her real purpose in visiting Russia and not simply to carry out her grandfather’s last wishes.

The main story however is almost entirely in Misha’s voice. His version of events is what we read even as Katya will later hear it on tape.

And how we want to believe it, that every word on the tape is true though throughout the story we are told that Dear Misha is holding something back, but what?

We obviously have an unreliable main character here, yet even as he tells his story he feels some sense of relief and absolution somehow in this altered version of what actually happened. We don’t really understand though how this is possible. More importantly, like Katya, we want to know what the real version of these events is.

The characters here seem very real though I don’t know much about the assassination of the Romanov family except that they were gunned down like dogs to make way for Lenin’s rise to power and that has always bugged me. Even if the Czar himself is partly to blame for his own downfall.

Still it is tragic in a Romeo and Juliet kind of way. So the story is a good one. It makes you think. It makes you wonder.

The only downside to this story is some of the language and the violence. If you can look past this though, it is worth a read.

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