Rasputin, one of the most notorious and enigmatic figures in Russian history, is brought vividly to life from the point of view of his daughter Maria in this new novel. The book begins in April 1917, with Maria being interrogated by the poet Alexander Blok, who represents the Provisional Government. Maria recounts the events of Rasputin’s last week, which is the main focus of the book. At first Maria and her sister worship their father for his miraculous “healing powers.” Then Maria finds out that rumors of her father’s enormous sexual appetites are true when she sees him groping a woman who has come to ask him for help. She is torn between her loyalty to her father and her knowledge of his true nature, but when she discovers a plot against him by Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri, and other high-ranking nobles, she tries to save him.
Rasputin’s Daughter does not quite come up to the standard set by Alexander’s earlier The Kitchen Boy (one of my very favorite historical novels). In particular, I thought that the love story between Maria and a young man named Sasha, who was involved in the first attempt on her father’s life in 1914, did not ring true. It was hard for me to believe that Maria would be so willing to trust Sasha again after he had betrayed her. But the author’s depiction of Rasputin was wonderful: he is not the monster that legend has made him out to be, but a very complex figure. At times, the author takes liberties with historic facts: Maria was not present when Rasputin healed the Tsarevich Alexei, or at her father’s death. But those scenes are so powerful that I did not mind a little artistic license.