Monday, October 02, 2006

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

This was the book of the month for September over at Historical Fiction Forum - a welcome change from the usual selections which tend to always feature English royalty. As much as I love reading about those, it is nice to expand the horizons a little bit!

Though the events are almost a century old, the imprisonment and execution of Tsar Nicholas and his family still hold an aura of mystery that fascinates. In haunting prose, Robert Alexander retells the story through the eyes of Leonka, on the kitchen boy to the Romanovs, who claims to be the last living witness to the family's brutal execution. Mysteriously spared by the Bolsheviks, the boy vanished into the bloody tides of the Russian Revolution. Now, through Alexander's conjuring, he reemerges to tell his story. What did the young boy see in those last days of the Imperial Family? Does he have answers to long-standing questions about secret letters smuggled to the Tsar, thirty-eight pounds of missing tsarist jewels, and why the bodies of two Romanov children are missing from the secret grave discovered in 1991?
This book is only about 200 pages long but for it's diminutive size it certainly was a captivating read.

It is told from the perspective of an old man telling his grand daughter the story of his life. The story he weaves in an extraordinary one. As a young boy, he was the kitchen boy assigned to the Romanov family. When the Romanovs were imprisoned at the Ipatiev house in Siberia, the kitchen boy Leonka was one of the few personal servants who were allowed to continue to serve the Tsar and his family.

Through the eyes of Leonka, we witness the last few days of the Royal family through several incidents, most notably when it seems as though they might be rescued as indicated in secret notes smuggled in to them. As the Tsarina and her daughters frantically try to hide the family jewels in case they are able to escape.

Incredibly, on the day that the Tsar, his family and his personal attendants are all killed, Leonka has been set free, thus saving his life. But for Leonka this has not necessarily been a blessing, for having snuck back to the house and been witness to the infamous events that followed, he is the last living witness, even able to give some clue as to what happened to the bodies of two of the Romanov children that were missing when the family's grave was finally discovered in 1991.

I really enjoyed the insight into the final days of the Tsar and his family...certainly a terrible incident in the long and turbulent history of Russia. There was a really interesting twist at the end of the book which I liked, although the author may have taken it just a fraction too far!

There is a really good website for this book as well, that can be found here.

Overall, an entertaining read!

Rating 4/5


  1. If you are interested in reading anything from the people who worked on identifying the Romanov's there is a section on it Dead Men Do Tell Tales by William R. Maples.

    Although I do caution you that it is an the memoirs of a forensic anthropologist and while I found it fascinating (I briefly considered the field) not everyone can stomach such a book.

  2. That would be interesting to read! Thanks! I should be alright reading gruesome's horrible smells that I am no good at!!!

  3. If I remember correction they are mentioned but not described. All the same, possibly not a book to enjoy with snacks. lol



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