Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Harrison centers the action around the mystic Rasputin' eldest daughter Masha and sticks mostly with the facts that are known about her life. However, she has imagined a chapter of Masha’s life where Masha and her younger sister live for a while with the Tsar’s family when they are imprisoned in the Alexander Palace, after the death of Rasputin. Harrison’s portrait of the family’s isolation is poignant, moving, and often surprisingly funny. Masha, her sister, and the Tsar’s five children are portrayed as a bunch of bored teenagers, albeit surrounded by hostile armed guards at all times. After Masha is released, she continues to correspond secretly with the Tsarevich Alexei; Harrison uses this device as a way to follow the family up through their deaths in 1918. I also liked how Harrison portrays Rasputin. She alludes to the worst parts of his reputation (his alleged sexual exploits and purported influence on politics) but doesn’t over-emphasize them. He emerges more as an obsessive man than an evil one. I just read that the TV network FX is developing a limited series about Rasputin. I wonder if they will be as judicious as Harrison – probably not.
(Book 31, 2013)