The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar
Robert Alexander (Adult Fiction)
“My name is Mikhail Semyonov. No, my real name—the one given to me at birth—was Leonid Sednyov, and I was known as Leonka. Please forgive my years of lies, but now I tell you the truth. What I wish to confess is that I was the kitchen boy in the Ipatiev House where the Tsar and Tsarista, Nikolai and Aleksandra, were imprisoned…and I saw them shot. Trust me, believe me, when I say this: I am the last living witness and I alone know what really happened that awful night…just as I alone know where the bodies of the two missing children are to be found. You see, I took care of them with my own hands.”
Mikhail (Misha) Semyonov is ninety-four years old. He’s a man who’s tired of living with the knowledge of what he has caused, what he has seen, and what he has done. Before he dies, he begins dictating his story into a small black tape recorder that will be given to his granddaughter upon his death. Misha desires neither understanding nor absolution. He merely wants the truth to finally be known and perhaps, at last, it will.
It’s one thing to read about the execution of the Romanov family during the late-night/early hours of July 16-17, 1918. The information gleaned from a history book or online is rather antiseptic—a blurb here, a mention there. On the contrary, what we get from Robert Alexander is an emotional, personal, and in-depth portrayal of a father, a mother, and their five children. We get a glimpse of Nikolai Aleksandrovich and Aleksandra Fyodorovna not as Tsar and Tsarista, but as a loving husband and wife and doting parents. Viewing them in this light makes reading about their horrific and heinous murders all the more gut-wrenching and abhorrent. They are not merely line items, but flesh and blood who love, hate, fear, and trust. Because of this humanistic portrayal of the royal family and the two weeks leading up to their execution, we almost forget that this is based on fact, and we futilely hold out hope for a courageous midnight rescue or a perilous, well-planned escape…although history reminds us that neither will happen.
This book held a few surprises for me. First, the number of secret notes, letters, and diaries that not only survived, but were preserved. I found this astonishing given the Bolsheviks’ ruthless intent to wholly wipe out the very existence of the Romanovs. It was also interesting to learn how the Romanovs planned to smuggle their vast family fortune once they acquired liberation (I will not elaborate further should this be new to you as well). Third, the ending was purely unexpected and opened up a whole new prospect of “What if….”. Just when you think you’ve reached the end of the story, Alexander gives us one final jolt that depletes the room of oxygen and leaves us wishing that his work of fiction was indeed fact. What if…
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com