Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Good and Cheap (Books)! Day 3

Both of the regular followers of our little blog know that I'm a fan of the Canadians. I also love Russia. I can't get enough of that country in my books. Maybe it's the red military uniform thing--Mounties, Stalin, what's the difference? (Email Gianna with complaints. She likes the attention.) So, when I heard that the new John Boyne novel from Other Press was set during the time of the Soviet Revolution, I lunged for a copy.

John Boyne, you may recall, is best known for writing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. He also wrote a terrific World War I novel called The Absolutist. This new book is called The House of Special Purpose and, as I said, takes place in Russia around the time of the revolution. The story kicks off with octogenarian Georgy Jachmenev taking his wife Zoya back to St. Petersburg for the first time since they fled the country decades earlier. The trip triggers Georgy's memories of his youth. He was a poor villager thrust into Tsar Nicolas II's royal guard after saving a Grand Duke from an attempted assassination. For his bravery, Georgy is given the job of personal bodyguard to the heir to the throne, Alexei Romanov. In the Winter Palace, Georgy learns the family's secrets, meets and becomes friends with the Romanov sisters (including Anastasia, about whom there was speculation for decades after the Communists came to power), and observes the royal family's interactions with Rasputin.
The Winter Palace

Russia at the turn of the 20th century was a powder keg of class warfare and tradition butting against modernity. Even while Nicolas II was hoping to help his country modernize, he recognized the precarious position he'd inherited and the threats to his family that hovered from all sides. The House of Special Purpose blends history and fiction into an accessible narrative appropriate for both young adult and adult readers. And who doesn't love a story set in the palaces of the richest family in the world, where Easter is celebrated with Faberge eggs? Who doesn't love the stories about Rasputin and the Tsarina? Or Anastasia? Or the people's revolution? Or World War I? John Boyne has written a winter fairy tale.

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