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The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander focuses on the last, secluded, and trapped days of the Romanov family before they are ultimately assassinated in 1918 as told by the kitchen boy, Leonka. Their lives were routine as royals with set times for dinners, etc., but in captivity, there days are even more regimented as they are expected to present themselves for inspection at certain hours, attend church services, and eat meals at certain times.  In fact, their lives are so routine, including that of the kitchen boy, the only highlights are wheeling the youngest, male heir about the home and imagining games until the Bolsheviks deign to open a window.

Shifting from the 1990s to the early 1900s, the narrator takes readers through the final days of the Tsar and his family and often interrupts his own story — being told on audio tape to his granddaughter, Katya — to interject the outcome of certain events or to provide other tangential historical information.  This disjointed narration often pulls readers out of the story, but once the narrator gets into the final three days of their captivity, the story moves rather quickly.  Moreover, the kitchen boy’s story is so complex that it takes a long time to unfold and by the end, readers will either have guessed the truth of the Romanov’s last days or they will feel betrayed by the narrator’s unreliability.

“My name is Mikhail Semyonov.  I live in Lake Forest village, Illinois state, the United States of America.  I am ninety-four years old.  I was born in Russia before the revolution.  I was born in Tula province and my name then was not Mikhail or even Misha, as I am known here in America.”  (page 3)

“His story, his truth, was what he would leave behind and it would be, he was certain, the definitive truth that would stand for decades if not centuries.”  (page 87)

However, the half-truths and subterfuge executed by the narrator do have a purpose and are understandable once the novel has completely unfolded, particularly given the tumultuous time period in Russian history.  Leonka is a young boy working in the kitchen of the Tsar’s prison, from which they are only allowed at most 1 hour outside in the courtyard’s fresh air as all the windows are permanently closed.  His duties are relegated to menial tasks of fetching water and preparing the day’s meals, but he’s also very observant.  Through carefully crafted context clues, readers will learn about the inner workings of the prison and the careful planning of not only the Romanovs but also the guards watching over them.

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander is an intricate story of those last days of a family held by their enemies in which the more human side of the royals surfaces through the eyes of a young kitchen boy.  However, the greater mystery is by turns too well hidden, it is almost a trick of the author when it is revealed.  Alexander’s narration could have staved off disappointment with more from Katya’s portion of the story as she seeks to execute her grandfather’s will and wishes.  As an epilogue, it is too neatly wrapped up with very little build up.

About the Author:

Robert Alexander is the author of the bestselling novels Rasputin’s Daughter, The Kitchen Boy, and the forthcoming The Romanov Bride. He has spent over thirty years traveling to Russia, where he has studied and also worked for the U.S. government. He speaks frequently to book clubs, and the schedule for his live video webcasts can be found at his Website.

This is my 8th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

  • I remember reading this, but I can’t remember if it was a DNF for me. I know I didn’t particularly like it. I can’t remember why now, though. Hmm…

    • Not sure….I did see an OK review of this from a blogger, but don’t remember where. I liked the book, but it has some issues — normally, for a short book I could read it in one sitting, but this one I was pulled from the story by the kitchen boy’s narration and foreshadowing — I just wanted the story told to me straight I guess.

  • This one is short enough to at least give a try. I’m looking forward to reading it. Thanks for passing it onto me!

  • This was sounds interesting to me despite the flaws. There are just too many books I want to read and not enough time to fit them all in. Great review!

    • If you do make the time for it; it is really short at about 200 pages.

  • Interesting perspective for this story!

    • The perspective is what drew me to the story.

  • I have been fascinated by the Romanovs for quite some time. I just may have to look up his works!

    • I hope you check it out and let me know what you think

  • Hmm, this one does sound really interesting, although flawed. I guess I’m on the fence about – which generally means it will never get read. There are just too many books out there that are interesting and not a flawed.

    • It is interesting, and at only about 200 pages, it is a short read.

  • I read all three of Robert Alexander’s books a few years ago. I really enjoyed his voice. From memory, this was the strongest of the three for me.

    • Hmm, that doesn’t bode well for me reading the other ones he’s written then.

  • This sounds problematic in places, but like Kathy, I’m fascinated by the Romanovs. Heading to add this to my GR shelf! Great review.

    • Thanks for checking out the review.

  • I went through a period when I was just fascinated with the Romanovs so this has piqued my interest.
    bermudaonion (Kathy)´s last blog post ..At the movies: Gangster Squad

    • I really do like reading about them, and this was different than the others I’ve read.