Author Patte Barham, after a lot of research, and interviews with white Russians both in London and in Paris, has worked with Maria Rasputin to write a very clear picture of Maria’s father, the controversial starets (a lay holy man) of the court of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Eighteen years old at the time of her father’s death, Maria had spent the last 8 years of his life with him in Petrograd, observing the many devotees who lined up daily for the opportunity to see her father, to ask them for healing or even just a blessing, and meeting the royal family and dining with them at the palace. While still a child, and not privy to all of his appointments, she still brings a unique perspective to Rasputin as a father, and as a friend of the court. The housekeeper, Dunia, cared for her like a mother and had loved her father very much. Through Dunia’s story, and the stories of others Maria — from her grandmother, friends in the aristocracy, and in the royal palace — Maria and Patte together have followed the story of Rasputin from his birth to his death.
The story begins on the last day in the life of Grigori Efimovich Rasputin, known to his family as Grischa. Maria recalls how ill her father was that day and how she had a great foreboding about his leaving the home at midnight with the rather strange Prince Feliks Yussupov. He was a man around whom she had always been uncomfortable; indeed, she disliked him intensely, and did not want her father to go out at that late hour with him. She was certain she would never see her Papa again alive.
With this beginning, Maria goes back in time to retell her father’s birth and childhood as it was told to her by her grandmother. She tells of his baptism, of how he was different from the other boys in the village, had great physical strength, and had a devotion to God, an ability to see into the future, and a healing touch with injured animals and people. After hearing a particular sermon about how God dwelt within a temple in each person, he went to the woods to meditate, and a light came to him, but in his fear, it withdrew, and he repented his fear of it, and only sought thereafter to have it back again.
Maria relates her Papa’s early struggles with the village boys, among whom he had few friends, and his early temptations with his strong sensual urges. She traces his marriage to her mother and the children that followed, her being the 2nd of 3 who survived. She tells what a great time they had together, walking in the woods and playing games, and how he felt God’s call to join a monastery and to find a teacher to guide him to the union with God that he sought. His experiences in the monastery resulted in him becoming a strannik, or pilgrim, traveling through his province of Siberia, and learning of the Khlisti, who indulged their sexual desires in order to free their minds to focus on meditation. After trying this lifestyle for a while, he came to a village where the ceremony was conducted in a completely different way, disgusting him, and turning him away from the sect. On his arrival home, he settled back contentedly into family life, although he makes an enemy of the priest of the village when his friends and neighbours prefer his preaching and his healing and he inadvertently becomes a competitor. And then, he believed God called him to go to Petrograd.
Maria also tells of the politics of the time, the greed of the politicians, bishops, and aristocracy, and the unrest of the working class. While Rasputin had a large following of the ordinary people, some politicians, and some of the aristocracy, he also made many enemies, especially after he became a favourite of the royal family due to his ability to heal Alexei, the tsarevitch, who suffered greatly from hemophilia. There were many rumors, some of which were based on a dislike of the English/German tsarina, Alexandra, as much as an attempt to discredit Rasputin. His followers were devoted to him and in the Afterword, Patte tells of having a clandestine meeting with an elderly lady in Paris whose home was even in 1968, a shrine to Rasputin.
This personal memoir, I felt, clarified who Rasputin was and the reasons his demise came about. Although there can be many flaws in memory, especially that of a doting daughter, I believe the book to have been well-researched and not wholly reliant on Maria’s memories. (You can read more about Maria Rasputin at this link; use Google translator to supply English for the Romanian.) The stories about her father told to her by Dunia after Rasputin’s death were recorded at the time and the conspirators to his murder have told their story. The book was credible and informative about life about the court of Nicholas II, their family life, and their interactions with Rasputin and his family. The account of the aftermath, too, was well told, well organized. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and now, when I go back and watch some of the documentaries done earlier (available on YouTube), I see them in a new light and, I think, am more able to separate the sensational, undocumented comments from those that are more thoughtfully presented with research backing them up. A thoroughly engaging book with a glossary of Russian terms at the back. (Yes!!) * * * *
Rasputin, The Man Behind the Myth is available at Amazon.
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