How not to write Russian hist-fic, Part II

Egads, there are so many historical inaccuracies in this book, I had to write a second post to cover everything! I felt like I were reading a book by a 13-year-old given carte blanche to spew out whatever flowed into her mind, with no editor or historical fact-checker. It’s like a kid who reads too much and understands too little, can’t research properly, and half-understands and misunderstands what she actually does read.

What else was wrong with this book?

28. No one likes infodumpy dialogue! It’s even worse when it contains the actual words “As you know.”

29. I kind of doubt a 15-year-old in 1917, let alone one from the highest reaches of society and extremely sheltered even by the standards of that era, would’ve known or used the word “penis.”

30. Speaking of, there appears to be zero truth to the oft-repeated urban legend about Rasputin’s member being cut off and preserved.

31. Even if thugs did draw an obscene cartoon of Rasputin sodomising Aleksandra on the garden wall, would any of the children have known what it represented? Given how completely sheltered they were, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn even the oldest had no idea what sex is.

32. I get the impression Ms. Lawhon just paraphrased certain passages from the websites and books she used, like writing a history paper.

33. This is the first I’ve ever heard of Anna Anderson meeting Ingrid Bergman or Hitler!

34. I might be mistaken, but 1958 seems kind of early for someone to use the word “mantra” in a non-religious sense.

35. Did Dr. Botkin really explain an orgy to his son Gleb? Since Ms. Lawhon aged him down five years, he’s only eleven in 1917. I can’t imagine any high-society parent of that era broaching such a subject with a child of that age, or using the modern term “having sex”!

36. Not nearly enough commas. Are writers allergic to them these days?

37. Overuse of “that.” That’s (no pun intended) one of the first things writers are taught about reducing wordcount!

38. Anna Anderson’s passionate advocate at Le Figaro was named Dominique Auclères, NOT Aucléres. Ms. Lawhon couldn’t even get the accent mark correct!

39. At one point, she leaves off the first accent in Champs-Élysées.

40. Was she taking her direction in Kerenskiy’s portrayal from the blatantly biased historical revisionism in Eisenstein’s October? He comes off like a cold-hearted, mean-spirited, evil criminal mastermind with nothing but contempt for the Romanovs!

41. Aleksey was not a toddler during the 1913 Tercentenary. He was eight years old. Oh, and he wasn’t walking at that celebration either, owing to still not being fully recovered from his serious injury at Spała, Poland the year before. Photos and film footage show him being carried.

42. Imperial and royal titles are capitalised when referring to an actual person and thus standing in for a proper name. E.g., the Dowager Empress, the Tsar, the Empress. For that matter, Imperial Family is also capitalised, and Russia’s ruling family was not a royal family.

43. Aleksey’s title was Tsesarevich. Tsarevich merely referred to any son of a Tsar, not the heir. And the spelling Tsarevitch? Did she take her transliteration hints from Constance Garnett? That’s how outdated that style is! I only did that when I didn’t know any better.

44. By age twelve, Aleksey was no longer an out of control spoilt brat with a huge sense of entitlement. When he found out his father had abdicated and there wouldn’t be a Tsar anymore, he showed no concern for the loss of his position as heir. He cared more about how that would affect the empire as a whole, and his family’s personal future. Oh, and the news was broken by tutor Pierre Gilliard, NOT Nicholas.

45. Tsarevna hasn’t been used as a title since the 18th century! The last women to bear it were the five daughters of Tsar Ivan V. From 1708 on, the daughters of a Tsar were called Velikaya Knyazhna (Grand Princess, mistranslated as Grand Duchess).

46. Aleksandra’s birth name was Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice, not Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice.

I get the impression Ms. Lawhon just skimmed the books she references, pulling out the flashiest and most riveting bits and leaving everything else ignored or unread. Not a one of these errors would’ve been made by anyone who’s done serious, meaningful, deep research on these subjects. Her ignorance of Russian history is painfully obvious, though she claims her research inspired her to study it at university.

If you can’t get the seemingly smallest details right, why should anyone have faith you got the deeper ones correct? When a book rife with historical inaccuracies gets popular, people with no prior familiarity with the subject innocently believe this misinformation and in turn pass it along. It then becomes much harder to rebut said inaccuracies.

How not to write Russian hist-fic, Part I

Like clockwork, I’ve yet again been disappointed by a recently-published popular historical novel. This time, it’s weak writing, gimmicky structure, reams of inaccuracies, and the author’s matter-of-fact acknowledgement of her dislike of her characters.

No one forced her to write this book. If she truly wished, a thousand times over, she’d been writing about the history of barbed wire instead, she had no business writing this! Write something you’re truly passionate about, and don’t use your Author’s Note to insult people who are truly enamoured of your subject matter.

What was wrong with this one?

1. The world does not need yet another book about Anastasiya. If not for Franziska Schanzkowska’s decades-long pretending act, she probably would’ve remained the least-known of Nicholas II’s children.

2. Backwards narration is very difficult to pull off well. I get why she moved FS backwards while moving Anastasiya forwards, but this wasn’t executed well.

3. Since everyone but delusional Anastasians knows Anna Anderson was indeed FS and not Anastasiya, there’s no real mystery. We know who she’ll be revealed as, and that Anastasiya didn’t survive.

4. Lots of confused homophones! “Heals” vs. “heels,” “peeked” vs. “peaked,” “wretched” vs. “retched,” “peeling” vs. “pealing.” And “publically” and “chuggs” are straight-up misspellings. Do big publishing houses no longer employ editors, or do their editors just give books a surface once-over?

5. On the FIRST PAGE of the 1917 story, she misidentifies Aleksey’s famous spaniel Joy as a female! Every single book on the Romanovs is quite clear Joy was MALE! Yes, Joy is typically a female name, but the dog was male!

6. Tatyana’s dog was named Ortipo, NOT Ortimo!

7. Anastasiya’s dog Jemmy (here called Jimmy) was a lapdog, NOT a giant Husky! The author decided to completely change his breed so he could escape, and because she has a huge black dog herself. Guess what, Aleksey’s dog Joy really did survive! Why not incorporate that detail into your story!

8. None of the Imperial Family’s dogs were thrown out of train windows.

9. Gleb Botkin is aged down by five years.

10. Tutors Pierre Gilliard and Sydney Gibbes are combined into one person. I hate composite characters!

11. Lady-in-waiting Anna Demidova is given the nickname Dova “because another Anna would have been too confusing.” Her real nickname was Nyuta. Guess what, lots of people in this era had the same small pool of traditional names, and somehow they were able to distinguish between all the Marys, Johns, Annes, Elizabeths, Williams, and Roberts!

12. The characterisations completely contradict the established personalities shining through in their letters, journals, and other documents.

13. Grand Duchesses Kseniya (Xenia) and Olga were the Tsar’s younger sisters, not older.

14. By 1917, Aleksey was hardly weak and frail. His physical health had improved marvellously, and he was almost as tall as his 5’7 dad.

15. Aleksey never walked again after he fell getting into bed the first night in Yekaterinburg.

16. She combines three Yakovs into the vile Yakov Yurovskiy “because I had no way of differentiating between so many Yakovs, and only room for one besides.” They have different surnames, you fool!

17. She gives Yevgeniy Koblinskiy the nickname Leshy because she’s convinced his surname is too similar to Aleksandr Kerenskiy’s. “I find these Russian names sound all the same. It’s damnably confusing to me[,] so I thought to spare the reader as best I could.” WTF! Just because YOU find Russian names confusing doesn’t mean everyone shares your Anglocentric views!

18. Tomas is not a Russian name. The Russian form of Thomas is Foma.

19. Perpetuating the almost certainly untrue story about the Grand Duchesses being raped on their way to Yekaterinburg. Ms. Lawhon changes it up by having it happen on the train, not the Rus steamer. She also falsely puts Aleksey and Anastasiya in the same cabin, and has Aleksey going back to sleep after the screams start.

20. Mariya sleeps with a Yekaterinburg guard. WHAT!

21. Russian and Polish surnames differ by sex. A woman is Romanova, not Romanov. A man is Schanzkowski, not Schanzkowska.

22. Nicholas and Aleksandra’s children called them Papa and Mama, not Father and Mother!

23. The term “gulag” did not exist in 1917. It’s an acronym for Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-Trudovykh Lagerey (Chief/State Administration of Corrective Labour Camps). This system was officially founded in 1930, though Soviet labour camps in Siberia began in 1919.

24. Where are all the other servants who accompanied the Romanovs into exile?

25. Russian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Eve on 6 January, not 24 December.

26. Ms. Lawhon’s negative attitudes towards royals shows through loud and clear. She’s perfectly entitled to those attitudes, but if she feels that strongly, there’s no point in writing about them!

27. The Tsar’s wife was called Empress and Tsaritsa. Tsarina is an inaccurate English word that doesn’t exist in Russian.

To be continued.

Yevgeniy Bauer

Yevgeniy Frantsevich Bauer (22 January 1865–9/22 June 1917) was born in Moskva. His dad, Czech immigrant Franz Bauer, was a musician, and his mother was an opera singer. Though most sources give 1865 as his birth year, his biographer believes he was truly born in St. Petersburg on 7 January 1867.

He was interested in the entertainment industry from childhood, and his sisters were professional actors. In 1887, he graduated from the Moskva School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture.

Bauer flitted from job to job—cartoonist, satirical journalist, artistic and portrait photographer, theatre director and impresario, scenographer, set designer, pilot—before turning to cinema in 1913.

He started out as a scenic director for the Drankov Trade House’s film on the Romanovs’ triumphant Tercentenary celebration (no one dreaming there weren’t even five more years left for the ruling dynastic house).

After this success, he directed four films for the company, followed by four films for a Muscovite branch of Pathé. He then moved to Khanzhonkov Trade House, Russia’s undisputed leading film company.

After Death, 1915

Bauer specialised in psychological and social dramas, with very dark themes and unhappy endings, though he also made comedies and a series of patriotic war propaganda films. He worked with many of pre-Revolutionary Russia’s leading actors, like Vera Kholodnaya, Ivan Mozzhukhin, Vera Karalli, Vitold Polonskiy, and Ivan Perestiani.

During WWI, he adopted the pseudonym Yegeniy Ancharov to avoid problems regarding his German-origin name. He took it from his wife, dancer and actor Lina Ancharova, whom he married in the 1890s. Lina starred in several of his comedies.

In 1917, Khanzhokov moved to Yalta, and Bauer began working on what would become his last completed film, For Happiness. During shooting, he broke his leg. This injury compelled him to direct his final film, King of Paris (which he wrote the script for), from a wheelchair.

The Dying Swan, 1917

Bauer caught pneumonia during the making of King of Paris, and was taken to hospital, leaving the film to be completed by Olga Rakhmanova. Not long afterwards, Bauer passed away at age 52.

Like many pre-Revolutionary people and things, Bauer’s films too were swept under the rug for decades. The new Soviet authorities dismissed his work as “bourgeois escapism,” though his films so clearly are a damning criticism of the bourgeoisie and wealthy.

After the February Revolution, he was more at liberty to openly express such themes. One of his films from this era was the first Russian film to expose the tyranny of the Okhrana (Tsarist version of the KGB) and the cruelty of Siberian prison.

Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, 1913

Had he not died prematurely, he probably wouldn’t have been automatically damned by association with the old world and may well have gone on to become one of the leading lights of Soviet cinema.

French film critic Georges Sadoul called Bauer “the first true cinematographic artist not only in Russia, but perhaps all over the world,” describing his films as “painting in motion.” Many other film historians and critics consider him one of history’s greatest directors, whose name deserves to stand next to luminaries like D.W. Griffith and Fritz Lang.

The Dying Swan

To date, 26 of his 80+ films are known to survive. In 2003, Milestone released Mad Love, containing The Dying Swan, Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, After Death, and a 37-minute visual essay. Milestone’s Early Russian Cinema series also features his films on volumes six, seven, nine, and ten.

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, conclusion

These days, I mostly find surnames from lists, and have moved past randomly choosing them from outdated encyclopedia and picking names in the news. It’s so much easier to do research now. However, I don’t regret giving some of my characters famous names, either intentionally or unintentionally.

It’s like an Easter egg; e.g., names like Chernomyrdina, Yeltsina, Zyuganov(a), and Yavlinskiy make it pretty obvious how immersed in Russian politics I was in the late Nineties.

I particularly don’t regret giving Lyuba’s stepfather’s family the name Lebedev(a), after Gen. Aleksandr Lebed (1950–2002), the candidate I supported in the 1996 presidential election. He had a very strong third-place finish, and was exactly the kind of leader Russia needs. The name means “swan,” which fits the title and symbolism of the first book.

Anna Akhmatova with her husband and son

Gumilyov, the false name Boris claims for himself, Lyuba, Ivan, and Ginny when deserting Bolshevik soldiers visit them in autumn 1917. Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (1886–1921) was a prominent poet of Russia’s Silver Age, and the husband of poet Anna Akhmatova. He was arrested and murdered by the Cheka. His son, Lev (1912–92), was a historian, anthropologist, ethnologist, and Persian translator.

Rhodes, Katrin’s awesome butler. He’s so fun to write. I created him in 2001, and named him around 2012, after Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran.

Scholl, a radical Greenwich Village doctor with an underground clinic, and a lot of courage and compassion. He was named for Sophie and Hans Scholl of the anti-Nazi White Rose group.

Tolstaya, a gymnasium teacher. Obviously after the famous Tolstoy family, titled counts who’ve produced scores of notables over the centuries.

Baryshnikova, wily orphanage girl Klarisa, whom Lena Yeltsina names her first daughter after in gratitude. As an adult, she continues using her skill at forging and double-crossing to help people with defecting. Mikhail Nikolayevich Baryshnikov (born 1948) is one of the greatest danseurs in history.

Nureyev, an interrogator in Lubyanka, named after venerable danseur Rudolf Khametovich Nureyev (1938–93).

Grinkova, the midwife who serves the fictional Russian–American farming town of Firebird Fields, Minnesota, very near Duluth. Mrs. Grinkova delivers Lyuba’s sixth, seventh, and eighth children, as well as all of Tatyana’s children. She and Ivan frequently trade sharp barbs because of their very different views on Lyuba continuing to have children with her history of high-risk pregnancies and deliveries.

In the fourth book, Mrs. Grinkova removes the husband stitches given to Nikolas and Kat’s daughter Raisa against her will. She and Raisa’s future second husband Filaret will come to her rescue near the end of the book, after husband Gustav’s most monstrous act.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Grinkov (1967–95) was the 1988 and 1994 OGM in pairs skating with his wife, Yekaterina Gordeyeva, with whom he also had four World golds, three European golds, one European silver, one World silver, one World Junior gold, and several other assorted golds and silvers. I’ll write a review of the book My Sergei sometime this year.

Aleksandr V. Popov during the 2008 Olympics, Copyright KenChong 一洲

Popov, one of creepy Basil Beriya’s fellow inmates at The Marx Center for the Crazies. He’s convinced he’s Karl Marx. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Popov (born 1971) is widely considered the greatest sprinter in swimming history. He has four OGMs, and two World Championship golds.

Nemova, another fellow inmate, who screams out the Nicene Creed nonstop. Basil is chained to the wall between these people. Aleksey Yuriyevich Nemov (born 1976) is one of the greatest gymnasts of history, with twelve Olympic medals (four of them gold), thirteen World Championship medals (five of them gold), four European Championship medals (three of them gold), and two European Team Championship golds.

House of Zubov coat of arms

Zubov, a former count, WWII Red Army hero, and young widower who moves into the Minneapolis apartment of the unhappily married Raisa and her twin Lyudmila in 1950. Raisa is instantly smitten with the handsome, polite, kind-natured Filaret, and begins dreaming of having an affair.

Filaret treats her twins Diana and Pamela much better than their father Gustav, and his respectful treatment of Raisa is night and day next to the increasingly cruel way Gustav treats her. He and Mrs. Grinkova will come to their rescue towards the end of the fourth book.

Though Zubov is a real noble surname, I also chose this name because of Dr. Nikolay Ivanovich Zubov, the subject of Chapter One of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s Invisible Allies. Dr. Zubov and his wife repeatedly risked their lives to hide his writings, and suffered a lot for their association, but remained loyal allies who refused to betray their friend.

Famous surnames (intentional) in my Russian historicals, continued

Tvardovskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Aleksey. In America, he changes the spelling to Tvardovsky. His surname was originally Trotskiy, which really only has one association. I don’t see it as a bad association, but it’s not one of those famous names (e.g., Lennon, Jackson) that feels believable on a non-famous person.

The replacement not only has a similar sound, but was also the surname of literary magazine Noviy Mir‘s chief editor, Aleksandr Trofimovich (1910–71). Under his tutelage, the magazine published a lot of things butting up against the Party line.

Teglyov, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Pavel, who saves their daughter Tatyana’s life when villain Misha Godunov throws her in the Skhodnya River as a baby. This is a character in Turgenev’s story “Knock, Knock, Knock.”

Premier Brezhnev (1906–82) in 1943

Brezhneva, curmudgeonly orphanage mother in Kyiv. Mrs. Brezhneva is so fun to write, because she’s so predictable, while also demonstrating slow but steady emotional growth. As loath as she is to admit it, she grows to deeply care for co-director and former orphanage girl Inna, as well as Inna’s children and the children of the other now-adult orphanage girls who also defected to Iran. Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev was Soviet Premier from 1964–82.

Andropov, a boardinghouse manager who appears in the first book. Yuriy Vladimirovich Andropov was Soviet Premier from November 1982–February 1984.

Yavlinskiy, a doctor who treats Ivan’s broken arm in the first book, and lets Lyuba, Ivan, Ginny, and Tatyana hide in his clinic for two weeks. Grigoriy Alekseyevich Yavlinskiy founded social-liberal party Yabloko (Apple), and came in fourth in the 1996 presidential election.

Grigoriy A. Yavlinskiy (born 1952), Copyright Бахтиёр Абдуллаев (Bakhtiyor Abdullayev)

Kerenskaya, orphanage girl Olga, who’s later adopted by Inessa’s Dyadya (Uncle) Dima and marries Inessa’s cousin Rustam. She’s eight months pregnant when she wades across the creek-like River Bug to Poland in 1937. Shortly after her arrival in America, she gives birth to her first child. In 1945, her family and Inessa’s family move to Staten Island.

Aleksandr Fyodorovich Kerenskiy (1881–1970) was a prominent politician during the short-lived Provisional Government of 1917, and the leader of Russia from July–November 1917. He narrowly escaped after the Bolshevik takeover, and settled in France. After the Nazi invasion, he immigrated to the U.S.

Aleksandr F. Kerenskiy

Kuchma, Ukrainian orphanage girl Valentina, another of the girls adopted by Dyadya Dima. She becomes very close to Inessa after they’re mistakenly sent to another orphanage, which influences Inessa to beg Dyadya Dima to adopt a little girl too. It means so much to Valentina to have a family again, and that Dyadya Dima respects her origins so much he tells her to never change her name, forget her native language, or call him Tata.

Leonid Danylovych Kuchma (born 1938) was Ukraine’s second president, 1994–2005.

Kwasniewska, Polish-born orphanage girl Zofia, also adopted by Dyadya Dima. She moves home to Poland as an adult, and ends up at the same rocket-making forced labour factory as Darya and Oliivia in the third book. Zofia survives Mauthausen with them too. She’s reunited with her three children after the war, and they’re given permission to join their family in America. Aleksander Kwaśniewski (born 1954) was President of Poland from 1995–2005.

Iosif Brodskiy (Joseph Brodsky)

Brodskaya, orphanage girl Irina, who appears in the first two books. Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodskiy (1940–1996) was persecuted, twice put in a mental hospital, put on trial, and sentenced to five years of hard labour (of which he served 18 months) for his “anti-Soviet” poetry. In 1972, he was forced into exile, and in 1987, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Rutskoy, a false name Boris gives Aleksey and Eliisabet when deserting Bolshevik soldiers pay a housecall in autumn 1917. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Rutskoy (born 1947) was Russia’s only Vice President, 1991–93. During the violent constitutional crisis of ’93, he was proclaimed Acting President. He remains active in politics.

Andrey A. Voznesenskiy, 1933–2010, Kremlin.ru

Voznesenskaya, a deranged, sadistic orphanage warden in Petrograd, who gets her just desserts near the end of Part I of the first book. Andrey Andreyevich Voznesenskiy (whose surname means “ascension”) was an amazing poet I highly recommend.

To be continued.