Monday, May 09, 2011

Rasputin's Daughter, by Robert Alexander

Sometimes history is ugly and sometimes historical figures are villainous. Such is the case of Rasputin, also known as the "Mad Monk", who brought down the Romanov family (the last Tsar of Russia) by association.

Rasputin's Daughter, by Robert Alexander is most definitely not for the faint of heart. After reading The Kitchen Boy (linked to my review of love and adoration) I was informed that Alexander wrote some additional titles surrounding the Romanov family - one of which is, of course, Rasputin's Daughter. It didn't take me too long to track down a copy for myself and I launched into it eagerly. Once again, I was spell-bound from page one and couldn't pry my eyes away from the pages even though I occasionally thought I should try. While The Kitchen Boy was fascinating and delightful, (such that I'm still convinced it's probably going to rank as one of my top favorite books read in 2011), Rasputin was fascinating in a horrid and awful way.

I knew Alexander took great care and pains to be as historical accurate as possible with this work. Just like he did in his first novel about this royal family, he used actual pieces of correspondence and historical facts to weave his fiction around. What Alexander purposes to do is offer an alternative "what if?" side to the Romanov family and those surrounding them. In this particular story, Alexander focuses on Grigori Rasputin who endeared himself to Tsar Nicolas and his wife the Tsarina, Alexandra, by "performing" acts of healing on their hemophiliac son, the heir to the throne.

Rasputin's Daughter is Rasputin's story of debauchery (more or less) as told through the eyes of his daughter (hence the title) who first revered him and then came to be horrified by him and his actions. I'll not spoil the story but you should know that Rasputin was a despicable creature. He was a womanizer with a foul mind who hid behind declarations of spirituality. He was constantly "cleansing" women to help them overcome their sin nature, while acting out his own depraved nature. He was hideous and appalling. This story documents some of his interactions with the royal family, raises questions regarding his relationship with the Tsarina, and ultimately concludes with his murder. (That's not a spoiler, really. It's discussed on page one and is a historical fact so I can't really get around that!)

After reading this book I sat down with good old YouTube and watched two separate documentaries on Rasputin to discover just how "mad" and dangerous this monk was. I would say that after watching the documentaries (one from the History Channel and the other from the Discovery Channel) that as nasty as Alexander's work came across - it was remarkably telling and accurate. He paints a decent picture of this mysterious "holy man." (Personally, I think just looking at this picture rather makes the point that this man was rather creepy.)

Rasputin does have a colorful background, being known as a womanizer from a very young age. He was from a small village in Siberia and married a local woman (who refused relations with him until he promised to marry her - so he did) but still prowled around. The village wanted him to move away and take his family with him. Instead, he agreed to walk to and spend time in a monastery. While there he "found God" (I suppose) and became more spiritually minded. He was noted to have a gift of second sight and a gift of healing. I think that either one cannot be disputed because he clearly gave many examples of healing throughout his lifetime. He had very intense eyes which people said were very persuasive and helped him, as a peasant, rise to the position of having a relationship with the Romanov's.

Rasputin also had a false idea of salvation and God Himself. Rasputin believed that to come to God one must first sin terribly. After sinning, then you could be redeemed. He seemed to ignore the fact that we were all born in sin and conceived in sin and sin isn't something that any one of us really need to work on perfecting. (Ps. 51:5) We come to a gracious and merciful God because we are sinners from birth, not because we've developed a knack for it. Still, he managed to convince many women that he could help them sin first and then receive sanctification. Your own imagination can likely fill in the blanks there.

So, I have to come to the conclusion of this book and learning about Rasputin and ask myself why on earth I read about him. (I also figured that you have to be wondering the same thing.) I recognize that Rasputin held himself out as a holy man and many believed him to be so. I recognize (and professional scholars do as well) that Rasputin had a, um, gift of healing, but I cannot believe that the man was healing in Jesus' name. I believe he used a demonic power to heal (always only temporarily) and definitely cared more for prestige and sexual conquests than he did about developing a relationship with Jesus Christ. Rasputin seemed to thrive on notoriety and shock value. He seldom cleaned himself. He ate with his fingers and enjoyed grossing other people out with his bad manners. He disregarded his marriage relationship and enjoyed the power of influence he seemed to absolutely have over the Tsarina in particular. (However, just to be clear, in both documentaries that I watched, great doubt was placed on the idea that the Tsarina and Rasputin were involved with one another sexually. More likely she was desperate for healing for her son and passionate about thanking him through sensational thank you notes.)

I'm also fascinated by this character (if I can use that word) because I think he is a prime example of how "bad company corrupts good morals." The people of Russia distrusted Rasputin and his proximity to the throne. They did not care to see a peasant like themselves rise in the eyes of royalty and influence things to the degree that he most definitely did. Call it jealousy if you like, or great distrust. (Personally I just wouldn't have trusted him! He did spark a great number of rumors and I rather believe most were true.) The Book of Proverbs gives many warnings against making friends with evil people and keeping close company with those who do not follow after God. (Proverbs 12:26; Proverbs 13:20; and 1 Corinthians 15:33) If you are a Christian, then your desire to surround yourselves with faithful Christians should be strong. I believe that Alexandra was too desperate over her son's health that she tossed her better judgment aside and gave Rasputin a foothold which, not only did he not deserve, but ultimately brought about the people's distrust in their Tsar and resulted in the Romanov's family's own vicious murders. Bad company will drag you down with them. We must choose our company wisely and well and rest assured that there will always be consequences for our choices and actions.

Although this book is shocking and horrifying on a great many levels, I also found it historical appealing and a good study on why it is important to select wise and faithful companions on our life journey. I'm glad to have read Rasputin's Daughter, but I also hesitate to recommend it. It's not a clean read but that's because it is a work about a real life unclean person. I don't think Alexander over dramatized anything about Rasputin at all. He painted a rather good picture of the man and so it is an interesting study, if you will, in piecing together more of the last Tsar of Russia and his curious and famous family.

Definitely read The Kitchen Boy but think twice before you pick up Rasputin's Daughter. Or, at the very least, just be aware that it doesn't paint a pretty picture. Then again, much of history isn't pretty so I wouldn't go about expecting a neat and tidy story all of the time. There is much to be learned both in the good and the bad of the past - if we'll pay attention to it and be willing to learn from it.


Jenny said...

What a creepy guy! I'm glad you researched him and not me.

Annette W. said...

EEE...ick. But you do make it sound good, though, and well worth the read...esp since it is true to history. I have put The Kitchen Boy on my list.

Taia said...

Interesting post. It's so true that history isn't pretty. I was recently reading about two missionary families returning from Africa during WW II whose ship had just been sunk by a German submarine. Some family members spent several weeks on a life raft; some drowned. Obviously, some people survive (or the book wouldn't have been written) but the story is not all "enjoyable".

Susanne said...

I loved the Kitchen Boy after you recommended it. I've been wanting to read this one and the other one by Alexander. He does sound like a grossly deceived person who deceived a whole lot of other people. If the story does stick pretty true to history I think I will still read it. I'll let you know. :v)

Shonya said...

well-written review. I fully agree, we sinful humans aren't "pretty", and sometimes we can learn from the mistakes of others.

As a sidenote, I am particularly struck by your reference to carefully choosing our companions. This topic sure seems to be popping up every time I turn around here lately!

bekahcubed said...

Wow--that's a hefty review! It's so hard to know whether or not to recommend such titles. For my part, I think I'll probably pick this one up (since it's at my localish library)--but I might not be doing my own review (I guess we'll see.)

Barbara H. said...

That's one of those names I've heard somewhere -- probably an old history class -- but knew relative nothing about. I think this is plenty. :-) I doubt I'll pick up this book, but I appreciate your review and your applications.

Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

Very interesting, I didn't know much about him.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I LOVE reading about the Russian Revolution and all that surrounds it! This was one of my favorite time periods to teach when I taught world history. I'll look these books up sometime!

DebD said...

This really doesn't sound like my kind of book, but I went and read your review of the Kitchen Boy and that does sound interesting...especially if it's been well researched.


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