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Soon to be a major motion picture starring Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient), directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Counterfeiters) Drawing from decades of work, travel, and research in Russia, Robert Alexander re-creates the tragic, perennially fascinating story of the final days of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov as seen through the eyes of their young kitchen boy, Leonka. Now an ancient Russian immigrant, Leonka claims to be the last living witness to the Romanovs’ brutal murders and sets down the dark secrets of his past with the imperial family. Does he hold the key to the many questions surrounding the family’s murder? Historically vivid and compelling, The Kitchen Boy is also a touching portrait of a loving family that was in many ways similar, yet so different, from any other.“Ingenious…Keeps readers guessing through the final pages.” —USA Today
Writer Robert Alexander, a fluent Russian speaker who studied in Leningrad, became fascinated with an obscure reference in the Empress Alexandra's personal journal shortly before her death, noting that their kitchen boy had been sent away. This brief reference from a forgotten 1918 diary took root in Alexander's imagination and, after much research, blossomed as his new novel The Kitchen Boy. This intriguing work of speculative historical fiction re-creates the last days of the tsar through the eyes of the young Leonka, who recalls how he secretly returned to the Siberian house that served as the Romanovs' prison and witnessed their execution.
Reader Q&A To ask other readers questions about The Kitchen Boy, please sign up. Popular Answered Questions Is this a. Clean book could a young teen read this? like 2 years ago See all 2 answers Tom Darrow Depends on the teen. The language is easy enough for a teenager to comprehend, although it jumps back and forth between Russian phrases and their…moreDepends on the teen. The language is easy enough for a teenager to comprehend, although it jumps back and forth between Russian phrases and their English translations, which might confuse some.On the subject of content, the murder scene is somewhat graphic, although not graphic just for the sake of being graphic. Also, there are a few things that the guards do to the bodies (particularly the female ones) that parents might object to. As with most things like this, parents should do some research and have a conversation with their kids about the content.(less) flag See 2 questions about The Kitchen Boy…
To ask other readers questions about The Kitchen Boy, please sign up. Popular Answered Questions Is this a. Clean book could a young teen read this? like 2 years ago See all 2 answers Tom Darrow Depends on the teen. The language is easy enough for a teenager to comprehend, although it jumps back and forth between Russian phrases and their…moreDepends on the teen. The language is easy enough for a teenager to comprehend, although it jumps back and forth between Russian phrases and their English translations, which might confuse some.On the subject of content, the murder scene is somewhat graphic, although not graphic just for the sake of being graphic. Also, there are a few things that the guards do to the bodies (particularly the female ones) that parents might object to. As with most things like this, parents should do some research and have a conversation with their kids about the content.(less) flag See 2 questions about The Kitchen Boy…
36. The Kitchen Boy By Alaa Al Aswany Alaa Al Aswany is recognized as one of Egypt’s boldest and most provocative writers. Yet his fiction—even when satirical—can work its spell subtly, as in this story from his new collection, Friendly Fire, coming on September 15. The “kitchen boy” of the title is a quietly ambitious young medical student, whose thwarted efforts to secure proper reward for his accomplishments lead finally to a transformation that might be familiar to anyone who has worked in an office in the Western world.
The only thing that was hard to find was information on the kitchen boy, Leonid Sednyov, who was removed from The House of Special Purpose just a few hours before the Romanovs were murdered. Several guards later testified that they saw Leonka, as the boy was known, across the alley in the guardhouse; they claimed he spent the night there and remembered seeing Leonka crying and curled up under a coat. The next morning he vanished, and it seems that no one made any serious attempt to find him. As the only survivor of the Romanovs’ captivity, he could supply us with so many answers (who wrote the secret rescue notes, how were the two suitcases of imperial jewels smuggled away, did the Romanovs really expect to be saved, and more). A reader recently wrote to me and said she’d heard that Leonka died of typhus in 1929, and that he’d left behind a short memoir. If such a memoir still exists, that’s the one document I wish I could have. Part of me believes, however, that if Leonka’s memoir were out there, it would have been published long ago.
Wait a minute, I clearly remember thinking, of those held under house arrest with Nicholas and Alexandra, there was actually a survivor? Of the seven Romanovs and their five attendants, there were not twelve people killed in that small basement room, but eleven? Most definitely so. It further struck me that this kitchen boy, Leonka, who was born in 1904, could still be alive. After all, I knew very well my great-great Aunt Flora, who was born the last year of the Civil War.
Although the general facts surrounding the captivity and murder of the Russian royal family have long been known, some key gaps in our knowledge have continued to raise curiosity and fuel speculation. When, in 1991, the secret mass grave of the Romanovs and four of their attendants was discovered, two bodies—those of the Tsarevich Alexei and his sister Grand Duchess Maria—were not found. Remaining unrecovered is a family suitcase packed with thirty-six pounds of priceless jewels. There was yet one other remarkable disappearance. Mere hours before the Romanovs and their servants were led to their deaths, the family’s kitchen boy, fourteen-year-old Leonka Sednyov, was ordered away from the Ipatiev House. He was never heard from again.
Combining these mysteries with a meticulously researched body of facts, Robert Alexander has crafted a tale of intrigue, tragedy, and betrayal in which all appearances are utterly believable yet nothing is quite what it seems. The story is recounted by Misha Semyonov, a recent widower now in his nineties who fled to America during the tumult of the Russian Civil War. With death approaching, Misha wants to set the record straight for his granddaughter and for the world at large: he is none other than Leonka, the vanished kitchen boy. Eighty summers ago, he carried a series of secret messages between the ex-Tsar and a band of potential rescuers, and, on the night of July 16-17, 1918, he bore witness to the royal massacre. But Misha must face his own issues of guilt, truth, and deception. Although he has resolved to convey “a thousand truths” to his granddaughter, will he dare to disclose the ultimate, shattering facts of his own existence?
Seen through the youthful, astonished eyes of Leonka but told by the cynical, misanthropic voice of Misha, the novel allows the reader to know a family that discovered greater nobility in its squalid exile than it had ever known in the gilded palaces of St. Petersburg. But The Kitchen Boy is about more than history—it is also a deep and moving meditation on the nature of evil and the power of forgiveness.
By the very nature of their profession, historians are of course forced to remain focused on the hard facts, but when the facts are skimpy or missing, it’s difficult to create an accurate picture of what really happened. In fiction, however, one is not so constrained. As I wrote The Kitchen Boy, I could speculate, I could probe and imagine, I could ask “what if” and play that out. Also, I think it’s important to recognize that most facts are, essentially, the result of human decisions, which are determined in great part by a person’s emotions and feelings. And while the territory of emotion is a nebulous, even dangerous one, for any historian, it’s fodder for a novelist.
The Kitchen Boy is a fascinating and suspenseful glimpse of a tempestuous but shadowy period in Russian history. It's also a moving portrait of a family that, despite their legendary role in world events, proved in the end to be as mortal as the rest of us.
In developing May and Misha and what they lived through, I came to believe that every century has a crime that defines it. For example, by leading humanity down a path no one had imagined, the events of 9/11 seem to have already defined this century, not only because they were so unbelievable, but because they have determined the primary focus of the world ever since and perhaps for years to come. In the very same way, I think the liquidation of the Russian royal family—Nicholas, Alexandra, their five children, four attendants, pets, everything and all except, strangely, their kitchen boy—was a defining event for the last century because on that very night the individual became expendable for the supposed sake of the collective. Thus a terrible page in history was turned, and the stage was set for the mass liquidations that followed all over the world. In Russia alone tens of millions of people perished at the hands of Stalin, and then of course another twenty million or more Russians died in World War II. Just terrible.
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