Monday, July 23, 2012

Rasputin's Daughter by Robert Alexander

TITLE: Rasputin's Daughter
AUTHOR: Robert Alexander
GENRE: Historical Fiction
SOURCE: Local Library

Goodreads / Author's Website

Rasputin's Daughter is the story of Maria Rasputin in the days leading up to her infamous father's murder. It reads like a memoir. Maria talks about her father in familiar terms and it is written entirely in the first person. It is easy to believe that this books is a piece of non-fiction, but it's not. It's a fictional take on the lives of real people. Honestly, it left me wondering why I wasn't reading well researched historical non-fiction as Rasputin's Daughter left me not so much caring about the characters as wanting different historical perspectives on them. 

Rasputin lives on today throughout popular culture as a figure of evil, myths surrounding his relationships and death live on (come on, you can't tell me you didn't think of Ra-ra-rasputine lover of the Russian queen when you first saw this title). Here's the thing, this book offers a very different take on Rasputin. It attempts to tell his story from his daughter's perspective.

Now, Maria Rasputin existed and she did escape Russia for America. That's all fact. She also wrote memoirs defending her father's memory and from what I can remember, painted quite the saintly portrait of him. This comes across in this book. Although Alexander attempts to make Maria a well rounded character, questioning her father's motives. He tells a not so typical coming of age story; Maria is going through what many other young people go through, the de-deification of one's parents, but under much more extraordinary circumstances. It was an interesting take on this kind of story. That part was interesting. I liked reading about Maria's furthering disillusionment and how it interacted with her deep familial love. It was compelling. It made her feel real. 

However, it never answered my question. Why don't I just read Maria's memoirs? This book was good as a starting point. It fueled a lot of questions, but answered very few. It created a need to research to further understand this enigmatic man. However, as a work of literature in and of itself, i'm not quite sure it succeeded. I should want to read the book again because the story is so interesting or because I just couldn't put it down the first time. Instead, I picked this book up and put it back down a few times. It was a bit of a slog and I just kept thinking, I could gain much better perspective on this topic if I read something peer reviewed. Yes. I'm that nerdy. But when all I really have to say about a book is that the historical perspective was interesting, something's wrong. 

Portions of the story were interesting as I said, but why was there a love story tacked onto it? That I didn't understand. Large portions of it could be cut without losing a lot. The story focused so much on a father/daughter relationship that I don't think this particular coming of age story would have lost much by not having a romantic interest. It was unnecessary and slowed down the story that I actually wanted to read. 

Alexander succeeded in making me want to further study the Romanov's, but the book itself was not as interesting as it could have been. I love historical fiction and when it's good it blends the history and era together with an original, fictional piece. However, that's far trickier to do when utilizing characters based entirely off of actual history figures. It gives the author far less wiggle room and in this case I don't think it quite succeeded as a work of literary fiction. 


  1. Hmm, this totally would have interested me if I saw it on the shelves at the library too. I'm glad you reviewed it so that I know I should probably pass.

    Rasputin is such a fascinating figure in Russian history (which is just chock full of crazy folk), but I don't think I want to read the sainted portrayal of him. Even just the truth is going to be interesting without much embellishment. Whatever may be the case about him, I'm pretty sure it's not that he's saintly.

    Now I want to read some good Russian stuff!

    1. I agree completely. I mean on the one hand I can understand why this particular character had a certain view of Rasputin, it was his daughter. However, it's a work of fiction and I'm just more interested in a more objective take. I've been on a bit of a Russian kick recently; it's so fascinating!