Nancy McKibben's Reviews > The House of Special Purpose

The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne
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bookshelves: historical-fiction, reviewed
Recommended for: readers who are Russophiles; readers who like the Romanovs

The House of Special Purpose
By John Boyne

I liked this book, although not as much as the reviewers who blurbed it. I had a little trouble swallowing the premise of the protagonist as a peasant turned bodyguard to the Tsarevich Alexei, and the main plot that devolved from it (which I don’t want to give away, although I guessed it pretty early on.) But after I forced myself to accept the two huge coincidences upon which the plot hangs, the book became the proverbial good read.

We know from the beginning that the protagonist Georgy and wife Zoya escape the Russian Revolution, as the novel is a meditation on their lives since that time. Georgy works at the British Museum and Zoya, troubled throughout her life by what she has seen, remains the light of Georgy’s life. I was taken with the way the author chooses to reveal the lives and choices of the main characters; it is far from chronological, but not at all confusing. In the end, the reader understands why Georgy and Zoya make life choices that would seem dull to some.

Boyne has a sure touch with period detail, and the wonders of living life as the ruling family of Russia are well-rendered and nearly as astonishing to the modern day reader as they are to the peasant Georgy. The characters are finely drawn and engaging - and also tragic, as we see clearly that the Tsar, a nice guy who probably would have been good at a number of things, is burdened instead by directing the Russian army, which he does very badly.

Worth reading.
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Reading Progress

August 8, 2013 – Started Reading
August 10, 2013 – Finished Reading
August 13, 2013 – Shelved
August 13, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
August 13, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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