Rasputin's Daughter is the novel of quite the political intrigue, suitable to current United States weather. The question of what one's worldview must be like when one is the favorite daughter of the "mad monk," during the dawn of the 1917 Russian Revolution, is answered by Robert Alexander who gives life to Maria Rasputin as well as the voice of her lover, Sasha, who was under cover as her lover and friend to infiltrate the Rasputin household and their trust, by which to more easily kill the patriarch, who was deemed of considerable threat to the order of the anti-Tsarist regime.
The novel begins when Maria is being interviewed by a man of the name Aleksander Aleksandrovich Blok, who also when he is not serving the Thirteenth Section as an interrogator, happens to be a poet. So when Matryona Grigorevna Rasputina is, "dragged through the ransacked halls of the Winter Palace," to be brought before Blok for questioning as to the reality of the events leading up to and including her father's death, she is able to recite his own poetry to him, "To sin shamelessly, endlessly/To lose count of the nights and days/And with a head unruly from drunkeness/To pass sideways into the Temple of God.
My would be interrogator was suddenly blushing. 'I wrote that.' " Of course Maria knows he wrote it and that he did causes her to hate the handsome Blok all the more, as they sit on separate sides of a very bloody and jagged line. She credits Blok's words with granting sophistication to a girl who would have been otherwise left behind at the level of schooling required for the sons and daughters of nobility as well as anyone within the court system. And now that was past and Blok wants to know what happened.
The novel takes place in one weeks time as Maria uncovers the good, the bad and the ugly of her own father, and in doing so reveals the bareness of her own self. Her father was not mad, nor was he formally educated. He was the last of a dying breed known in Siberia as shaman; men heralded for special powers of healing through chant, prayer, touch and other non-Westernized forms of medicine. Some of Rasputin's powers are made up for glory, some of it is very real.
Maria, who often serves as her father's messenger, more than once walks in on him while he is in the middle of a sexual encounter. He is not above taking advantage of women who need his notes to have a relative protected or sent to a certain hospital. His beard is long, his table manners are stomach turning to read about, as he wipes his greasy fingers on his beard and bits of food stick to it. But it is for these reasons, disgusting or no, he is a powerful and unique influence at the palace. He strikes the Emperor and Empress as genuine. His roughly hewn and insubordinate manner goes to his favor and he does have a talent in aiding the chronically ill, especially Heir Tsarevich Aleksei Nikolaevich, who suffers deplorably from hemophilia.
Rasputin is at the call of and is supported by members of the Royal Palace, and it is up to Maria to find him when he is needed. When the Tsarista phones to say her son is dying as he tripped over a toy and is bleeding uncontrolled inside his knee, and Rasputin's help is required at once; Maria sets off to find her father somewhere within the seemingly debauched landscape of his lifestyle at St. Petersburg.
Maria eventually locates him, interrupting his session with a prostitute, and they both head to the Aleksander Palace. Aleksei Nikolaevich, has a leg filled with blood to the extent it is bent and contorted, " 'Mama...Mama...' he gasped, 'will it hurt so much when I go to Heaven?' " After all others have left the room Rasputin and his daughter, under his instruction begin to heal the suffering boy through prayers, chants and stories. " 'Close your eyes and hold my hand, dear boy,' came Papa's deep, sweet voice. 'Now imagine we are strolling through the forest near my home in Siberia. Can you picture it? Can you see the endless pine wood and smell the sweet scent? The trees - they are so big!'
His eyes closed, Aleksei breathed in, exhaled, and replied softly. 'I see it all, Father Grigori...so many pine trees...and mushrooms too! Lots and lots of mushrooms!'
'Yes, that's right! Let's pick some, shall we?'
By the next day the boy's leg is not fully healed but is resting flat on the bed, his temperature is normal and he was able to calm down and be free from pain enough to sleep. The places Rasputin took the child with his stories, freed the boy from agony so he could be a person again. Maria is exhausted by the ordeal of caring for the boy and falls asleep while her father stays by Nicholas's side with prayers and chants for hours.
Once they return home, Maria eats a large dinner of every type of fish available in the house. Fish is considered a type of holy meal as the Apostles ate fish. Jellied fish heads are a favorite in the Rasputin household. The mother is not part of their apartment life as she never liked St. Petersburg and she and her husband are permanently separated.
Sasha, Maria's boyfriend, stops by to see her but she kicks him out as she is afraid of what her father would think, only to find her father with the housekeeper. Maria tries to warn her father to be aware of an internalized plot to assassinate him, as the Romanov monarchy implodes on itself as at the same time, the common people, wanting warmth and bread revolt; and all this during World War I.
She tries to keep him from going out before she can tell him everything, by keeping his favorite boots by her bedside so she will wake up before he can leave. But this does not work, and she sleeps through his passing. Rasputin is taken by uncles of the Tsar to be poisoned with sweets and wine. When he refuses the delectables, he is simply shot in front of Maria who still is trying to warn him. Rasputin dies in the arms of his daughter and Maria is stunned to find her boyfriend, who she loved and trusted and whose child she is carrying is one of her father's assassins. The politics of the novel are accurate of the time as they are murky, thick, and ever changing. Sasha is Prince O'ksandr, " 'Prince Felix sent me to infiltrate the Khlysty and his family - to find his religion, charm his daughter, enter his home - all in the hopes not of simply getting information but of unearthing scandal.' "
Sasha is soon to pass away from typhus, as he lives under deplorable conditions at the hands of The Thirteenth Section. And Maria after telling her story to Blok, passes on, unknowing the father of her child is alive, but soon to die. "Blok gazed across the huge throne room and watched as Maria Rasputin reached the tall gilded doors, slipped through one and pulled it shut behind her, disappearing into history."
By Sarah Bahl