A Sad Anniversary

Because 17 and 18 July are the 104th anniversary of the murder of Russia’s last Imperial Family, I’m sharing Chapter 15, “A Sad Anniversary,” of my alternative history And Aleksey Lived. It closes Part I, “The Boy Tsar.”

A gallery of pictures follows the chapter.

In the middle of the night on 17 July, Aleksey awoke with a sharp, bitter feeling crushing his entire being. When he turned on the bedside lamp and looked at the little clock Mikhail had gotten him for his name-day in October, he saw it was a bit after one in the morning, about the same time he’d been awoken exactly a year ago today. A year ago, he’d still had parents, a complete family, somewhat more of a sense of innocence. The shattered innocence of captivity was preferable to the completely destroyed innocence which had descended in the cellar. Now he had no choice but to forever live with the images of his parents being murdered in front of him, and being shot at himself.

He threw off the covers and stood up, almost forgetting there were calipers encasing his legs. After taking a few minutes to adjust to the darkness, so he wouldn’t trip or bang into anything, he carefully walked around the room and turned on every light. He also lit a few candles, though they were only supposed to be used for emergencies or religious purposes. Even after the entire room had become flooded with light, the nightmarish images wouldn’t be chased away as easily as the light had chased away the darkness. He still saw his father picking him up and carrying him out of their bedroom, out of the house, through the courtyard, down the stairs, and into the cellar, with his mother and sisters following behind, along with their servants. Even his sisters’ two dogs had come into the cellar. Only Joy had been spared that cataclysm, though had Aleksey been able to walk, he would’ve brought his dog there too.

Aleksey clomped over to the easel and uncapped a container of black paint, not caring which particular type of paint it were. Paint was paint, even if his new art tutor was trying to teach him the differences between each medium. He then found the largest brush in the tin can stuffed full of brushes, plunged it into the paint, and frantically moved it around the canvas. After filling about half the canvas with black swirls and streaks, he opened a canister of dark grey paint, found a new brush, and added that slightly different color to the painting. A little bit of space was still left, so he found the darkest red possible and maniacally jabbed the brush into the white spaces. As he shoved the dripping brush all along the bottom of the canvas, his throat tightened and he began hyperventilating.

Hoping to open the windows for fresh air, he went to stand up, but was paralyzed in place. He could feel his legs, but couldn’t compel them to move. His hands shook as he rolled up his pajama pant legs and fumbled for the buckles on the right caliper. This wasn’t successful either, as his fingers were shaking too badly to perform any fine motor operation.

“What’s happening in here?” Mikhail asked. “Why are there so many lights on in the middle of the night? I heard odd noises and went to investigate, thinking there might be a rodent.”

Aleksey opened his mouth to respond, but his throat was too dry to speak, and his tongue was just as paralyzed as his legs. He struggled to raise his arm and point at the calendar.

Mikhail’s eyes softened. “It’s been a year since you lost your parents, hasn’t it?”

Aleksey could only nod.

“What are you painting? That’s a lot darker and more abstract than anything I’ve ever seen you draw.” Mikhail looked down and saw his nephew’s rolled-up pant legs. “Were you trying to remove your calipers? You’ve made too much progress to suddenly reverse it all now.”

“It’s the cellar.” He barely managed to utter these words. “If I put it on paper, it might leave my mind forever.”

Mikhail strode over to his nephew, knelt by him, and enfolded him in his arms. “Those memories will live as long as you do. You can’t compel them out of your brain by painting them, drawing them, sculpting them, or writing about them. If I could, I’d put all your bad memories in a sealed iron box and throw it into the bottom of the ocean, but memory doesn’t work like that. We have to live with all our memories, both good and bad, our entire lives. We can’t just remember the happy times. Ugly memories are part of who we are, and shape us into the people we become.”

“But I have more bad memories than most people. Not just the cellar, but all those times when I almost died before that. Why couldn’t I die with my parents in the cellar, or any number of times before that? I was never destined for a long life. God should’ve taken me long before then, so I wouldn’t have to become a prisoner and be shot at so many times.”

“We can’t understand God’s reasoning for keeping you alive so long, in spite of your disease. Maybe it means God really wants you to become Tsar, and has destined you for great things beyond your imagining.” Mikhail released his nephew and stood up. “If you want, I’ll spend the rest of the night here, so you’ll feel better if you have another nightmare. There’s a special memorial service for your parents in the morning.”

“In the Palace Chapel?”

“It’s in Saint Catherine’s Cathedral, since we’re expecting a very large crowd. You can walk there and back without crutches, can’t you? Thank God you’re no longer a shadow of yourself as you were when all this madness happened. Maybe taking a longer walk than usual will help to restore more of your strength.”

“I guess I can walk that far, though I prefer to pray in the Palace Chapel and Fyodorovskiy Cathedral, if I have to leave palace grounds.”

“I wouldn’t make you walk that distance if I didn’t think you could do it. We never really understand what we’re capable of till we’re right there in the moment. The bounds of a human being are something we can never comprehend, no matter how much we’re astounded by them.”

Aleksey clomped back to bed as Mikhail went around turning off all the lights and extinguishing the candles. Before Mikhail put off all the lights, he turned the easel around, just in case that image might frighten his nephew even more upon awaking.

“You’re my favorite uncle, Dyadya Misha,” Aleksey said after Mikhail shut the door and got into bed. “I bet my other uncles would think I were a baby if I asked them to spend the rest of the night with me. I’m almost fifteen.”

“You can’t know for sure unless you ask them, but I can’t imagine anyone, family or not, volunteering for that duty.” Mikhail patted his nephew’s shoulder. “Now try to go back to sleep, and conserve all your strength and emotion for the memorial service.”

2

Mercifully, Mikhail decided to go to St. Catherine’s Cathedral in one of his luxurious automobiles instead of walking all the way there. No one wanted to walk when they could drive, particularly considering this church wasn’t as close as Fyodorovskiy Cathedral, so Mikhail took out his dark green Chalmers and two Peugeots. Aleksey’s sisters and their husbands would take the Peugeots, and everyone else would ride in the exquisite Chalmers.

“Your uncle’s always falling asleep at the wheel,” Natalya said as she climbed into the car. “If I don’t poke him in the ribs when he nods off, he’d land in a ditch or roll over in the middle of the road.”

“I won’t nod off when my own nephew is a passenger,” Mikhail said. “How could I risk the life of our only hope for the future? That would be so hypocritical, after I’ve been so strict about the management of his health.”

“You nod off no matter who’s in the car or where you’re going. Actions speak louder than words.” Natalya reached for her almost-three-month-old baby Vera as she was handed over by an English governess.

During the brief drive to the church, Aleksey sat between his cousins and looked at the passing scenery. He’d always loved riding in cars, and driving his toy Mercedes Benz and his father’s cars. It was horrid to be forbidden from driving again, but at least Mikhail hadn’t barred him from being a passenger. So long as he was in a car, he could try to live vicariously through the driver and pretend he were the one driving. When he was older, he might have a nice collection of cars like Mikhail, from faraway places like Italy, France, England, and America. Perhaps when a few more years had passed, he could acquire German cars. The taboo against anything and anyone German would have to eventually dissipate.

Mikhail brought the car to a stop near the church, and let Natalya out before opening the passenger doors. The usual crowd milled around, waiting for a glimpse of their ruling family. Aleksey took his uncle’s other arm and stayed close to his side as they walked through the crowd into the church, though people still reached out to touch them and pronounced blessings.

“Behave yourselves,” Mikhail barked inside the church. “My nephew and I aren’t circus animals to be gawked at. We’re normal people, not just the Regent and Tsar.”

While the crowd was distracted with looking at Aleksey’s three obviously expecting sisters, Mikhail found his nephew a chair close to the ikonostasis. By the time everyone moved into the church, Mikhail, Natalya, and Vladimir blocked the view of the seated boy Tsar, and no one was any the wiser.

The priest began chanting the prayers for the dead and swinging a censer. As always, Aleksey couldn’t bring himself to follow along or respond. As much as he still believed in God, the God he’d believed in had died in the cellar along with his parents. It was impossible to go back to that innocent, overly pious faith. He knew too much, and couldn’t pretend everything was the same. Even his nun aunt Ella hadn’t resumed exactly the type of faith she’d had before her captivity.

“Don’t clutch the sides of the chair too tightly,” Mikhail whispered. “You don’t want to bruise your hands or fingers.”

Aleksey called to mind images of his parents in happier days, on Shtandart, at Livadiya, watching films and slideshows on Saturday evenings at home, as they appeared in the picture inside his Fabergé egg. Then the ugly, hateful images returned, of his parents’ shocked expressions right after the evil ringleader had pronounced the death sentence on his father, how they’d looked as enemy bullets entered their bodies and killed them instantly, their lifeless, bloody bodies lying on the cellar floor as a thick haze of gunsmoke drifted through the room and his sisters screamed. No one came to comfort him during the mêlée, as his sisters had comforted one another. He’d been all alone in that armchair, his father’s lifeless body slumped in front of him, his mother’s lifeless body off to the side, no one to hold him during his threatened final moments. Only a last-minute reprieve from the Angel of Death had saved him from the grave.

Aleksey stood up from the chair and put his arms around his uncle, as the final words of the prayer for the dead filled the air. He shut his eyes to try to stave off the thick grey clouds threatening to rupture, but to no avail. They still trickled from behind his eyelids, so copiously his uncle’s shirt had to be getting drenched.

“Why couldn’t the last year have been a nightmare? I wasn’t supposed to lose my parents like that, and I don’t want to be the Tsar when I’m so young.”

“You’ll be okay, no matter what’s going on in your mind and heart now,” Mikhail reassured him. “I’ll always have your back and give you all the love, protection, and normalcy your parents can no longer provide. You’ve got me and your sisters to grieve with, and we’ll never abandon you.”

“My sisters abandoned me in the cellar. None of them came to hold my hand, hug me, or anything. They knew I was too sick to move, and they only cared about themselves.”

“Don’t be upset at them for that. Who could think straight in such a terrible situation? You probably weren’t thinking straight either.”

“I was too scared to do anything. At least I never screamed or cried. I wish I hadn’t let myself get so emotional now. You must think I’m really babyish.”

Mikhail patted his nephew’s auburn hair. “I’ve told you, there’s nothing to be ashamed about. This is a sad anniversary, and even if it were just another day, men are allowed to cry.”

“You really think of me as a man?”

“No matter how young you are, I don’t think anyone can deny you’ve become a man in your heart. The people might consider you their boy Tsar, but as far as I and everyone in our family are concerned, you’re more of a real man than other people your age. Your heart has a special maturity and sensitivity that don’t come to just anyone, and those precious characteristics will help make you into a great Tsar, just as they made you into such a special young man.”

*************************************

Murdered on 17 July 1918:

Tsar Nicholas II (Nikolay Aleksandrovich), born 6/18 May 1868

Empress Aleksandra Fyodorovna, née Princess Viktoria Alix Helena Luise Beatrice of Hesse and by Rhine, born 6 June 1872

Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna, born 3/15 November 1895

Grand Duchess Tatyana Nikolayevna, born 29 May/11 June 1897

Grand Duchess Mariya Nikolayevna, born 14/27 June 1899

Grand Duchess Anastasiya Nikolayevna, born 5/18 June 1901

Tsesarevich Aleksey Nikolayevich, born 30 July/12 August 1904

Dr. Yevgeniy Sergeyevich Botkin, born 27 May/8 June 1865

Anna Stepanovna Demidova (lady-in-waiting), born 14/26 January 1878

Ivan Mikhaylovich Kharitonov (cook), born 2/14 June 1870

Aloiziy Yegorovich Trupp (footman), born 5 April 1856

Murdered on 18 July 1918 (though most took several days to die):

Grand Duke Sergey Mikhaylovich, born 25 September/7 October 1869

Sister (formerly Grand Duchess) Yelizaveta Fyodorovna, née Princess Elisabeth Alexandra Luise Alice of Hesse and by Rhine, born 1 November 1864

Sister Varvara Alekseyevna Yakovleva, born circa 1850

Prince (né Grand Duke) Ioann Konstantinovich, born 23 June/5 July 1886

Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich the younger, born 20 December 1890/1 January 1891

Prince Igor Konstantinovich, born 29 May/10 June 1894

Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley (really a Romanov), born 28 December 1896/9 January 1897

 

Second from left above and second from right below is Grand Duke Sergey’s secretary Fyodor Semyonovich Remez, birthdate unknown

St. Nicholas Park and St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church

St. Nicholas Park was created in the intersection of Harlem, Hamilton Heights, and Manhattanville in 1895. Its borders are 127th St. on the south, 141st St. on the north, St. Nicholas Avenue on the east, and St. Nicholas Terrace on the west.

The park was once the site of the Croton Aqueduct, which was built from 1837–42 and dramatically improved city sanitation and home plumbing. Prior to the aqueduct, there were many epidemics and a high mortality rate caused by tainted water. Wealthy people who lived in private houses were also able to start using bathtubs and sinks with running water, and public bathhouses for the masses came into being.

Less happily, many cellars were flooded due to a sharp decrease in usage of city wells and a subsequent rise in the water table. Sewers were then built on residential streets.

The New Croton Aqueduct, which is still in use, was built from 1885–90.

135th St. New Croton Aqueduct Gatehouse, Copyright Midmodsquad

More land was acquired from 1900–06, and creation of the park began in earnest in 1906. Parks Commissioner and landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr. took charge of the design, saying, “[a] dominant note must be followed with a harmonious treatment, a high hill made higher, a rugged slope more rugged, a deep valley made deeper, thus invariably following nature’s lead.”

In 1909, the park expanded downward to 128th St. This new area included The Point of Rocks, where General Washington stood during the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. The expansion increased the park’s size to 23 acres.

A playground was added in 1931, within which was a garden where farm produce was grown for educational purposes.

Since 2008, Hamilton Grange, the 1802 home of Alexander Hamilton, was moved 500 feet into the park. Prior, it stood on Convent Avenue on the north, facing 141st St. Its current location is within the borders of Hamilton’s original 32-acre estate.

Much of the City College campus is just across St. Nicholas Terrace to the west. Three churches also border the park—St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, St. James Presbyterian Church, St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.

Hamilton Grange, Copyright Ajay Suresh

My character Nestor Ugolnikov, a former Marine who lost his leg at Iwo Jima, is walking through the park with two bags of groceries on the eve of Orthodox Easter 1949 when he has a tumble in a patch of mud. His prosthesis, which he forgot to fasten tightly enough, falls off and is soon stolen by three mean little boys. Even worse, it begins raining.

His future wife Yustina Yeltsina-Baronova comes to his rescue by rebagging his groceries and getting a cop to search for the leg and give him a ride home. That December, they break up in St. Nicholas Park, but are soon back together and engaged, when Nestor finally realizes Yustina loves him just as he is and doesn’t care he’s missing a leg.

More information:

http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/st-nicholas-park/history

http://stnicholasparknyc.org/

Copyright Beyond My Ken

St. Michael’s Russian Catholic Church was built in 1859 on 266 Mulberry St. in Gingerbread Gothic style. It began life as the Chancery Office Building of the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and was designed by James Renwick, Jr. and William Rodrigue, who also designed the new St. Patrick’s.

In 1936, the building took on a new life as a Russian Catholic church under the leadership of Father Andrew Rogosh, who arrived in New York on Christmas Day 1935 in the hopes of establishing an émigré apostolate. New York was one of the largest White Russian enclaves.

Though the disgustingly-named “Emergency Immigration Act” of 1921 and its follow-up, even more ridiculously xenophobia quota of 1924 made it nearly impossible for people from Eastern Europe to come to the U.S., there were some lucky people allowed to immigrate despite the strict, fear-fueled red tape.

Father Rogosh provided spiritual guidance and comfort to these new immigrants who’d been driven from their homeland by the Russian Revolution, Civil War, and Stalin’s goons. He often travelled to DP camps in Europe as part of his ministry.

Over the years, many people of all faiths and ethnicities came to St. Michael’s to hear the beautiful Russian-style Byzantine Rite service.

Sadly, gentrifiers drove up the property values, and the community had to relocate to St. Catherine of Siena on East 68th St. in 2019.

My character Varya Koneva visits the church after work in May 1952 and speaks with Father Rogosh about her spiritual dilemma re: a looming interfaith marriage. She’s engaged to a Polish Catholic (from the family who saved her niece Darya’s life during the war), and they have to choose a church for their wedding. Varya isn’t particularly attached to Orthodoxy, but doesn’t want to be excommunicated for marrying in a Catholic church.

Father Rogosh says there are few significant differences between Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism, and encourages her to try out St. Michael’s as her new spiritual home.

More information:

http://www.saintmichaels.nyc/

http://sthughofcluny.org/2019/02/the-last-liturgy-at-st-michaels.html

http://66.39.99.22/history.php

http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/the_russians_are_here

http://www.nytimes.com/1964/03/15/archives/byzantine-mass-sung-at-st-patricks.html

Naina and Katya at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now permanently shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time.

***

On Sunday morning, Naína and Kátya put on their nicest clothes and try to copy Anastásiya when she ties a fancy scarf over her hair. They know not all girls and women cover their hair in church, but they don’t want to call attention to themselves when they’re going to be new and haven’t had the chance to go to church in eight years. Even though Katrin said the church has pews, unlike Orthodox churches back home, they feel they’ll call less attention to themselves if they walk around during the service instead of sitting or standing in one place. Since they don’t even remember what happens or how to behave during a typical Divine Liturgy, they think they’ll feel more at home lighting candles and taking in the ikons and artwork.

Just as Katrin said, Anastásiya makes Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy ride on the upper level of the bus, while she takes a seat with Naína and Kátya on the lower level. Mrs. Whitmore gets off several blocks before their stop and walks the rest of the way to the church, so no one will suspect she’s with Anastásiya. Naína and Kátya think she’s as ridiculous as Katrin and Viktóriya told them, and hope this woman isn’t around them very much during the vacation they were promised. They’re more looking forward to spending time playing with the children, which seems a natural activity after so many years in orphanages, and getting to know Viktóriya and the other three young girls they were told might be coming. They left all their friends behind and can’t wait to make some new ones.

Anastásiya doesn’t even introduce them and goes to sit on one of the pews nearest the altar. Naína and Kátya are shocked to see a healthy young person taking a seat when they remember only the old, infirm, pregnant women, and people with small children taking seats back home. They try to follow along in the prayerbook for awhile, then give up on following along with the Old Church Slavonic, both printed and spoken. While they’re waiting for an ample space to open up so they can light some candles, they notice a very handsome, tall man holding a young girl in the crook of one arm and holding a little boy with his other hand. The young girl is venerating an ikon in a baby’s way. Next to him is a very tall woman holding a somewhat older girl who’s lighting a candle.

“Welcome to our church,” the man smiles. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen you. We’re the Konevs.”

“We just came here a few days ago.  I’m Naína Yezhova, and that’s my best friend Kátya Chernomyrdina. I’m fifteen and she’s nineteen.”

“Oh, you’re the girls my wife’s crazy radical friend Katrin’s husband sponsored. I was told you’re going on vacation with us this summer. I’m Iván, and that’s my wife Lyuba. Our baby here is also named Kátya, after her maternal grandmother. The other little girl is Dárya, and the boy is our son Fyodor. Our firstborn Tatyana is somewhere over there with her godparents and their kids.”

“We promise we’ll be very good on vacation and prove we deserve to be sponsored. We’ll do chores, childcare, and whatever else you ask us to do. And we won’t bother you anymore after September. Sándros told us we could go to some hotel run by an older Russian woman, and possibly get information about my aunt there. We’ve never had a real vacation, and barely remember when life was normal.”

“We were all immigrants ourselves not too many years ago. We’d never exploit one of our own. I assume you came here with that light-headed Anastásiya. She usually minds her own business when we vacation together. Other than that, we’re pretty nice people. Even that crazy Katrin seems like a nice person beneath her radical politics.”

“Her little boy is so cute,” Kátya says. “I can understand not wanting to draw attention to their relationship in public, since she’s an unwed mother, but she doesn’t even act loving or motherly in private.”

“She was never the smartest person or possessed of very sympathetic feelings. God forgive me for saying this in church, but she’s been self-centered and oblivious since I’ve known her. She only kept her son instead of placing him for adoption so she could have an heir to her family name and successful business. And she once was against having kids for fear her figure would be destroyed and she’d have her precious personal time disrupted and a potential competitor for her beauty, if she’d had a girl. The woman’s got as much sense as God gave a brick.”

“Ványa, that’s quite enough gossip in church,” Lyuba warns.

“Of course. Well, I guess we’ll see you girls again tomorrow, when we all leave for Coney Island. I hate most of the rides and sideshows, but the beach is nice.”

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.

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