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Rasputin: The Last Word - Edvard Radzinskii

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  • which is slightly odd
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      14.03.2011 19:49
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      an informative book about Rasputin

      I have always had a fascination for all things Russian - so much so that I'm convinced I lived there in a previous life ( only joking!) I am also a lover of history and was lucky enough to study it at A level and later at uni as part of my first degree. I remember at school that the GCE (as it was) and A level syllabuses barely focused on Rasputin so I really only came across this supposed 'mad monk' when I was researching his life and the effect that he apparently had on the Romanov family and consequently firing scepticism, suspicion and blamed by some as fuelling the 1917 revolution. This 650 page book is written by one of Russia's most famous playwrights Edvard Radzinskii and, once you get accustomed to the rather strange writing style, I think it is a book worth reading although it would be useful to have some knowledge of the revolutions of 1904 & 1917 , overall political scene and the structure and mentality of the Russian people (both peasants and royalty). The first half of the the book is concerned with the author tracking down the files on Rasputin which had been been 'looked after' by the Bolsheviks since 1918.- a story in itself! The rest of the book is about this 'strange creature', 'ranting lunatic', 'seducer of all women', 'mad monk' etc Was he really the above? did he bed hundreds of women? was his member really that huge? was he just a crazed alcoholic? was he bent on destroying Russia? were his healing powers what was keeping the Tsar's haeamophilic son alive? did he sleep with the Tsarina? Disappointingly (in some areas lol!) many of the myths have been dispelled as the files went through everybody the authorities could find who had any contact with Rasputin show. Apparently he was viewed by almost all the women he met as extremely sexually attractive and he had sex with hundreds of women. His drinking and manic behaviour at times was often reported but so was his generosity, his gentleness and his deep religion. Born in Siberia and settling in Petrograd this man soon became a legend when he was invited to the Romanov palace and rumours soon started that he was having an affair with Alexandra which was unfounded.His death apparently was not as dramatic as his life - wonder if there's an equivalent - Russian whispers? I very rarely re-read books but as my younger daughter is planning to write her dissertation on Rasputin, I decided to read it again and I'm pleased I did. The photos are interesting and relevant but obviously in black & white so we cannot see those apparently piercing blue eyes...... This book may not be to everyone's taste but I found it enjoyable, informative and probably the nearest we shall ever get to knowing more about this strange but fascinating man.

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        20.03.2004 20:31
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        • "which is slightly odd"

        Everything I knew about Grigori Rasputin, the ?mad monk? who wielded an unhealthy influence in the court of the Russian Tsar just before the Revolution, came from three sources. There?s a decent Hammer horror starring Christopher Lee, a terrible costume drama starring Alan Rickman, and an absolutely fantastic song by Boney M. I got this book mainly because I felt that those three sources of information weren?t giving me the complete story. Rasputin?s always struck me as an interesting sort of chap, and Rasputin: The Last Word looked long enough to be fairly comprehensive. What rather surprised me on reading it was the realisation that, of the three sources I?d previously relied on, the Boney M song is actually the most historically accurate. I always imagined it would be the dull Rickman movie. Apart from the ?lover of the Russian Queen? bit (he wasn?t), and the line ?He could preach the Bible like a preacher? (he couldn?t read and wasn?t a preacher in any conventional sense of the word), the rest of the song is actually pretty true. Which is great, when you think about it, because everyone likes Boney M, and no one likes Alan Rickman, for goodness sake. The book?s author, Edvard Radzinsky, is a well-known playwright in Russia, although I?m not aware of his work crossing over into Western Europe at all. He?s also written history, including a book about Nicholas II, the ill-fated last Tsar. Again, I?m not aware of his history books being translated into English, and can?t help but feel that this one only was because of Rasputin?s lurid reputation. Not to worry, it?s very good. Radzinsky has managed to track down a secret file on Rasputin, long lost, that helps to fill in a lot of gaps about the man and his life. An inve stigation was launched of Rasputin, his behaviour and his influence at court shortly after the first 1917 revolution, by the short-lived Kerensky government. The file, which contained interviews with pretty much everyone who had known Rasputin, vanished into the vaults of the Soviet state after the Bolsheviks came to power, and then disappeared completely. The first chapter of the book describes Radzinsky?s hunt for this file, and how he found it. After that, he plunges straight into the life of Rasputin. It?s the story of a dissolute young peasant from Siberia who finds God, makes his way to Petrograd (as it was then known), and charms his way into high society. He seems to have possessed genuine faith-healing powers, and proved to be the only person capable of treating the young Tsarevich, Alexei, who suffered from haemophilia. The Tsarina, Alexandra, who was of a mystical bent, soon came to rely on him for pretty much everything. He also seems to have shagged his way through most of the women of Petrograd, and probably some of the men too. He drank to excess, especially towards the end of his life, and liked to dance. As his political influence grew to enormous proportions, he made many, many enemies. Eventually, tired of trying to remove him through legal channels, a few of them got together and murdered him in 1916, a few months before the Revolution that would probably have cost him his life anyway. Almost all of which is mentioned in the Boney M song, as it happens, but I won?t dwell on that any more. The book dispels some of the more interesting myths about the man. He wasn?t the lover of the Russian Queen, sadly. He doesn?t appear to have been a hypnotist, although he did take a few lessons. His personal hygiene was pretty good. His, er, member, rather disappointingly, is described as being p retty normal, and, if anything, slightly on the small side, rather than the wart-encrusted ramrod of legend. He wasn?t even a monk, being married with children. Most interestingly, the bewildering story of his murder (where his killers allegedly had to poison him, shoot him about five times, beat him to death then drown him) is pretty convincingly debunked. They probably just shot him and chucked him in a canal. A great story about Rasputin getting drunk with a load of gypsies in a Moscow restaurant, making crude sexual comments about the Tsarina and then exposing himself, Jim Morrison style, is probably untrue too. But still, he was a fascinating character. He managed to whip up his acolytes into a sexual frenzy of some kind (one of his female followers is described shouting ?You are Christ and I am your ewe!? at him). On the one hand he could be a pretty nasty piece of work, destroying people?s careers on a whim, and there was an allegation of rape that might well have been true. On the other hand he was a convinced pacifist who opposed the First World War, and was quite happy to consort with Jews at a time when they were bitterly oppressed. He was extremely paranoid, especially after an early attempt on his life, but would quite happily wander drunkenly around Petrograd looking for prostitutes. The descriptions of Rasputin by those that knew him are often strangely contradictory, although everyone agrees that there was something strange about his eyes (which really comes across in the photos of him, as he stares balefully into the camera). It?s a pretty long book, about 650 pages. But it?s not a difficult read by any means. There are a couple of criticisms, both quite minor. Firstly, it would be helpful if you know a bit about Russian history of the era, as it doesn?t explain it in any depth (although it is very good on the subje ct of religious sects, as they give a context for Rasputin?s beliefs); nothing terribly expert, but you do kind of need to know a bit about the 1904 revolution and what the Duma was and stuff like that. Secondly, the writing style is a bit peculiar. A lot of the sentences seem to be missing a few verbs. Possibly this is a rhetorical style in Russian that doesn?t come across in translation, possibly it?s just an over-literal translation of a language with very different rules to English. Either way, it isn?t something that I?ve come across in any other Russian books I?ve read in translation. It?s not a major problem, as you soon get used to it, but it is a bit strange at first. So if you want to know about Rasputin (and who doesn?t, deep down?) then this is a great book. He seems to have been a bit like a cross between Aleister Crowley and J Edgar Hoover, but with a beard. There are plenty of photos, and it?s as exhaustive an account of the man?s eventful life as you could ever wish for.

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