Posted in 1910s, Aleksey Romanov, alternative history, Russian culture, Russian history, Russophilia, Writing

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.”


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

Posted in Russian history

Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova

This was originally written on 18 June and 2 July 2015, and scheduled for 16 April 2016. I opted not to use it for that year’s Blogging from A to Z because it seemed too much a repeat of my post about Grand Duke Mikhail and focused too much on Natalya’s relationships instead of her life as a whole. Regardless, I put too much work into it to keep it gathering cobwebs in my drafts folder!


Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova (née Sheremetyevskaya, formerly Mamontova and Vulfert), 27 June 1880–26 January 1952

Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova was Grand Duke Mikhail’s wife. It was her third marriage, and his first and only marriage. This was a woman like Yoko Ono or Natacha Rambova, someone most people either strongly love or hate. There aren’t too many people taking a more balanced opinion. I personally lean more towards sympathy.

Natalya was the third of three daughters born to Sergey Aleksandrovich and Yuliya Vladislavovna, a bourgeois Muscovite couple. Her older sisters were Olga and Vera. Theirs was an intellectual home, full of serious conversations about world events, literature, art, music, social movements, all the things which were judged too heavy for Imperial society to discuss. All three sisters received a very good education, including a live-in French governess.


Natalya with Grand Duke Mikhail

Natalya married pianist Sergey Mamontov in 1902, and had a daughter, also named Natalya, the next June. Her daughter was called Tata, instead of the more usual Natasha. Their life was anything but domestic bliss, though, as Natalya quickly bored of his retiring nature. She loved going to parties and the homes of people just as intelligent and educated as she was, while Sergey preferred to come right home from work and not be very social. They amicably divorced in 1905, with Sergey pretending infidelity, the only reason divorce was permitted in the Russian Empire.


Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail with their son Georgiy

Natalya divorced Mamontov to marry Vladimir Vladimirovich Vulfert, a Blue Cuirrassier officer of Baltic–German descent. Their life in Gatchina was happy at first, but then they met Grand Duke Mikhail at a Blue Cuirassier event, and their marriage began heading for the rocks. Mikhail was instantly smitten by Natalya, and for a long time cultivated a friendship with them as a couple so as not to give away his true intentions. However, the attraction became mutual, and Vulfert eventually discovered his wife’s emotional infidelity. Things got extremely ugly, complete with domestic abuse, spousal rape, and threats to shoot Natalya or himself.


Natalya (centre) and Grand Duke Mikhail (far left) with friends

Natalya separated from Vulfert in 1909, and she and Mikhail finally became lovers in August of that year, when Mikhail was on holiday in Denmark with his mother, the Dowager Empress. They continued seeing one another when they returned to Russia, and set up a living arrangement in Moskva. This was no small feat, since a woman couldn’t live apart from her husband without his permission. If the husband refused, the police could apprehend the wife and compel her to come home. Such a couple could live apart only after a lengthy investigation into their relationship, to determine who was at supposed fault. A wife could get a temporary permit to live alone in the interim, but she still wasn’t free to leave permanently without official permission.


Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail in 1912

Natalya gave birth to a boy named Georgiy in July 1910, when she was still legally married to Vulfert. She was terrified her estranged husband would take her child from her, and quite a lot of money and legal trouble was expended to not only get a divorce, but also to get a second birth certificate. The second birth certificate listed Georgiy as the “bastard” son of an unmarried woman, but at least that was better than a birth certificate claiming him as the child of a man who wasn’t his father. Mikhail had to fight his brother long and hard to get Georgiy made “legitimate,” and in 1915, he was created Count Brasov. Natalya was also created Countess Brasova.


Following their marriage in October 1912, Mikhail was banished from Russia, and also received many other draconian punishments from his brother. Almost everyone in the Imperial Family was furious Mikhail had married a twice-divorced commoner, and some very ugly things were said about Natalya. The little family spent the next few years living in France, Switzerland, and England. Only after the outbreak of war did they get permission to come home. Mikhail was sent to the front lines as punishment for having married morganatically, but he served very bravely and got to come home a few times.


May 1909, the first known surviving photograph of Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail. The believed photographer is her then-husband Vulfert

Natalya escaped the new Soviet Union with her children in 1918, after Mikhail’s murder. They started a new life in England, though money was tight. The family later moved to France. Sadly, Georgiy was killed in a car accident in 1931, and Natalya died alone, in poverty, of cancer.

Posted in 1910s, Historical fiction, Karla, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian history, Russian novel, Secondary characters, Writing

Meet Naina, Katya, and Karla

I’m returning to moving out old posts indefinitely stored in my drafts folder. Originally one of a batch of 20 posts I put together and stored in my drafts folder for the now-long-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop on 24 June 2012, this comes from my first Russian historical and has been changed a fair bit. The published version doesn’t use the pedantic accent marks used here, for starts, and some things have been fleshed out while others (like the pointless roll-calling) have been removed. In the published version, sadistic Mrs. Zyuganova also pushes Klara into the snow, not the mud, seeing as it’s December in Minsk.


Possibly my favorite subplots in my Russian novels revolve around my orphanage girls. I’d read about how children of “enemies of the people” were treated in orphanages during the Civil War in Felice Holman’s The Wild Children, which I read shortly before beginning the first book in early 1993, but I wasn’t inspired to create a whole series of subplots set in orphanages and playing out over three books till my second major period of working on the first novel.

When I was introduced to what became my favoritest movie, The Inner Circle, in the summer of ’96, and then resumed work on the novel that November [actually September], I knew I had to have orphanage characters too. They include Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora, some of Lyuba’s future stepsisters, and Anya and Leontiy, the children of the couple who took Lyuba and her friends into hiding. Some of the other important orphanage girls include Belarusian Inessa and trio Katya, Naina, and Karla. Naina is the niece of Sonya Gorbachëva, an important secondary character.

Naina and Inessa have always been my favorite of the orphanage girls. Inessa is a very intelligent, headstrong young girl who’s only there because her parents were arrested for an honest, petty mistake, and Naina is as sharp as nails in spite of her young age. Naina first appears in December of 1919, and at barely eight years old is toting a gun.


“These three will stay in this bunk to make up for the three who departed.” Mrs. Zyuganova leads three new girls into the quarters. “Names, ages, and nationalities?”

“Naína Antónovna Yezhova, age eight, from Pétrograd.”

“Nice necklace. It’s mine now.” She grabs a citrine necklace hanging around Naína’s neck.

Naína slaps her hands away, reaches under her dress, and pulls a gun on Mrs. Zyuganova. “No it’s not. My mátushka gave it to me when I was four. Steal it and I shoot you. My papa gave me one of his handguns before I was taken away, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Mrs. Zyuganova struggles to collect herself. “Next?”

“Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, age twelve, from L’viv.”

“L’vov,” Mrs. Zyuganova growls.

“No, it’s really L’viv!”


“Last name and patronymic?”

“I’m two and from Yaroslavl.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I don’t know!”

Mrs. Zyuganova picks Kárla up and throws her into a wall. Then she begins beating her.

“Stop beating her!” Naína bites Mrs. Zyuganova. “She’s only two years old! She is Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva. She’s my cousin, and if you hurt her again I will kill you. Remember, I’ve got a gun, and I know how to shoot. It’s not just for show.”

“Quiet that tiny one down!” Mrs. Zyuganova screams.

Naína takes Kárla into another room.

“No, you can’t leave the room you’re assigned to!”

“I am well accustomed to the rules of orphanages by now. I don’t like you. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be sticking around much longer. Just try to stop us. You know you can always get three fresh victims where you found us.”

Mrs. Zyuganova spits in disgust. “We’re ready to round people up to cars. Boys first. Leontiy Ryudolfovich Godimov, Andréy Samuelovich Bródskiy, Ósip Yuriyevich Khrushchëv, Iósif Vasíliyevich Klykachëv, Maksím…”

They go into the car obediently.

“Girls next. Natálya and Fyodora Ilyínichna Lebedeva, Yeléna Vasíliyevna Klykachëva, Svetlána Yuriyevna Khrushchëva, Valentína L’vóvna Kuchma, Irína Samuelovna Bródskaya, Ínna Aleksándrovna Zhirínovskaya, and Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya.”

“My brother is on that transport!” Klára howls.

“Tough luck. If you sneak on I’ll beat you. Oh. I would love to get rid of Inéssa my traitor niece. Off you go!”

“Fédya!  Fédya!” Klára screams.

Mrs. Zyuganova pushes Klára into the mud. “Would anybody like to sell his or her place to little Klára Mikháylovna Nadleshina?”

“I would!  I would!” Inéssa screams.

“Stay on that train, Inéssa! I want to get rid of you!”

Inéssa runs to the man approaching and flings herself into his arms. “Dyadya Díma! Take me away and adopt me! I’ve been in this orphanage since my parents got arrested, and Tyotya Dásha beats me sometimes! Adopt me!”

Mr. Zyuganov’s forehead is thrust forward, like a ram’s. He has red-brown hair and gray eyes. “Dásha, is this true?”

“Yes it’s true, now adopt me, Dyadya Díma!”

“Dásha, I saw him! The Leader! He’s promised to bring fair work conditions to the mines in Belarus! Soon you won’t have to work in this hospital anymore!”

“This isn’t a hospital! It’s a phony orphanage! Adopt me!”

“Of course, I’ll adopt my niece if her parents are jailed enemies of the people—”

Mrs. Zyuganova yanks Inéssa from her uncle’s arms and throws her into the girls’ cattlecar. “Goodbye, my traitor niece. I hope they treat you even worse at the new place.”

Klára runs with the train and boosts herself up into the window. Ánya, Véra, and Natálya run with her and boost themselves up next. They all tumble on top of the three newest arrivals.

“We hid under the baggage holds,” Naína says. “We’re very sneaky. After seeing how she treated Kárla, I had to say no and move onto another orphanage!”

Posted in Books, Books I dislike, Historical fiction, Russian culture, Russian history, Russophilia

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.

Posted in Books, Books I dislike, Historical fiction, Russian culture, Russian history, Russophilia

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.