The True Memoirs of Little K
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Mzathilde Kschessinka was prima ballerina of the Russian Imperial ballet company, but she is remembered not only as a ballet icon but as the concubine of the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II.
The True Memoirs of Little K are the (fictionalized) memories of Mathilde, which she is writing down decades later after the history of Russia has already been cemented. Having grown up in a family of other ballerinas, Mathilde relishes life on the stage, but she soon is overcome by the desire for the opulence and wealth that is embodied by the Imperial family.
Mathilde is pretty open to bedding any member of the Imperial family, however Nicholas, aka Niki, is held above all else. He and Mathilde embark on a blistering love affair that ends once Niki marries Alix, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Mathilde had held out hope that she could marry into the royal family, despite the impossibility of such a feat. She is severely disappointed by his marriage to Alix and is constantly flaunting her relationship in Alix’s face at any chance she gets.
Meanwhile, Alix and Niki are having issues, because Alix is unable to produce a male heir. She has birthed four daughters, and Niki is at his wits end due to the pressure placed on him to have a son. His desperation leads him back to Mathilde, and for a brief summer they resume their love affair. This time, Mathilde becomes pregnant. She is elated when she gives birth to a boy, knowing that she now has a stronghold on Niki. Just two short years later, Alix gives birth to her son Alexei, and Mathilde believes Niki no longer needs her son as
Unfortunately, Mathilde doesn’t realize until later that Alexei is a very sick child. Stricken with hemophilia, he is a “bleeder”, and because his blood can’t clot, any scratch, bump or bruise is deadly. He is one death’s door several times, and Niki believes that he can just requisition his son with Mathilde, Vova, as the tsarevitch should the need arise. Then the revolution hits.
I have always held a strong fascination for Russia’s last tsar and his family. Something about the horrible way in which they were imprisoned and killed just saddened and captivated me, and then the whole idea that Anastasia has somehow escaped execution and is still alive, most believably as a woman named Anna Anderson. So when I saw The True Memoirs of Little K was this month’s BOOK CLUB choice, I jumped at the chance to read it, especially because I knew about the presence of Mathilde but had no knowledge about her role in Niki’s life.
I had a few minor issues with the book. First off, I was bored with any lengthy descriptions of the ballet. I know that was a major part of Mathilde’s life, but it just didn’t grab me. I was much more interested in the role she played in the imperial family, so part of the book really fascinated me while the other part fell flat. I am not sure whether that was the fault of the author, as ballet is not usually something that interests me in the first place.
My second issue was the parentage of Vova. This was also a small issue, as I understand this is fiction and the author has the right to appropriate facts and embellish the truth to make for a better story, but after finishing the book, I did a little bit of research. The thing is, I have read multiple books on the Romanovs and I had never heard the possibility that Niki had fathered a child outside of wedlock, so I wanted to see if there was a possibility that Vova really was Niki’s child. From what I read, his paternity was in question, but it was never believed that Niki was his father. Furthermore, I have never read anything to suggest that Vova ever lived with the imperial family. So what Sharp suggested in the book was a big leap from the truth.
The Romanov family
I have always had a soft spot for Alix and the way her circumstances led her to being persecuted. Her relationship with Rasputin was called into question, for good reason, as Rasputin was a certified whackadoo, but when you look what led up to that, you can’t help but feel sorry for her. She had moved to Russia and married the tsar, leaving behind everything she knew, including the religion she held dear to her heart. She was never liked by the people of Russia, who saw her as an outsider and a cold, steely woman. Then she is unable to bear any sons. When she finally does, she has afflicted her son with the hemophilia that has run rampant in her family, and her son is on death’s door more times than you can count. The only respite she seems to get is with the help of Rasputin, who she thinks is healing her son. Despite how crazy he appears, can you blame her for doing everything possible to save her son? As much as Mathilde couldn’t stand her, she eventually came around to seeing Alix’s attributes, and although Alix didn’t really play a large part in the book, I think Sharp portrayed her in a sympathetic light.
I wouldn’t say that The True Memoirs of Little K is a good history of the Romanovs, but if you’re interested in that time period, it is a solid read. If you are interested in books that are more in depth, I would suggest the following two, which are my favorite of what I have read.
Devourer of Books
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for participation in BOOK CLUB, hosted by Jen at Devourer of Books and Nicole at Linus’s Blanket.
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