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Cover image from goodreads.com

HE’S THE ONLY ONE ALIVE WHO KNOWS WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. WHAT DARK SECRETS WILL THIS ANCIENT RUSSIAN IMMIGRANT REVEAL ABOUT THE FINAL DAYS OF NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA?

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, once 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 still missing from the secret grave discovered in 1991?

(Story synopsis from book cover, Penguin Book edition)

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander was the May novel choice for the Pi Phi Pages book club read. With this being a historical fiction novel, I was of course very excited for this book. In addition to my affinity for historical fiction, the mystery that surrounds the Romanov is always one that is fascinating. Alexander did use historical documents as inspiration for The Kitchen Boy, however Alexander does state that this story is fictional. Since no one is truly sure what happened to the Imperial Family, there are many different accounts of what might have happened. Alexander presents a unique (and of course heartbreaking) account of the family through the eyes of the family’s kitchen boy, Leonka.

The beginning of the novel is quite intriguing with the introduction of Leonka, who is also known as Misha in his adopted home of Lake Forest, Illinois. When the reader meets Misha, he is in the process of creating a tape recording for his granddaughter of his involvement with the Imperial Family and the relationship that he developed with the family, just weeks after his wife May’s death. Misha/Leonka takes us through the days that the Romanovs and a select few of their remaining servants leading up to the execution of the Imperial Family and those loyal to them.

Through Leonka we learn about the hope that was instilled into the Romanov family as secret notes are passed to the Imperial Family through the servants, including Leonka and nuns from a local convent, describing a loyal group working on their rescue and escape. However, Alexander throws in a twist for the reader towards the end. Something goes horribly wrong with the plan and Leonka blames himself for the way that the Romanovs are finally executed.

As Misha(Leonka) shares his story with his granddaughter, many details of the final days emerge, but what Leonka remembers most about the family is how loving they were. The Romanovs treated all of their servants as part of their family and openly showed affection to each other. Throughout the story we find out that Misha and his wife May have been trying to gather as many of the Imperial Family’s treasures since Misha’s escape that fateful night. Not only have they had to keep their acquisitions secret, but there is another secret that they have tried to keep secret from the rest of the world waiting only until the moment was right in history and in Russia for it to be revealed. This secret is what Misha’s granddaughter is now being trusted with.

While parts of The Kitchen Boy did seem slow, it mimicked the feeling of the days that were being kept by the Imperial Family as they were essentially under house-arrest with very few options for changes in their routines. However, Robert Alexander does a great job of presenting yet another twist of what could have happened all those years ago and why two of the Romanov children were not found in the make-shift grave with the rest of the family and their servants. The Kitchen Boy is a fascinating and thought-provoking novel regarding the mystery surrounding the Imperial Family.

I look forward to reading Robert Alexander’s other books: Rasputin’s Daughter and The Romanov Bride.

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