Unemployed historian Lex Grol (29) has always been fascinated by the fall of the old tsarist regime. In the summer in which this novel is set, he is looking after a villa for friends. Unexpectedly, his former tutor rings him up to ask him to write an article about the murder of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family. Lex, the son of a Russian mother, has always felt a bond with Alexei, Nicholas’s son and heir who was, like Lex, a haemophiliac.
In her earlier books Peper has already shown that it would be a mistake to write people with passionate hobbies off as harmless cranks. In Russisch blauw she employs a controlled and ingenious style to tell the story of a young man who is rapidly losing himself in his overheated fantasies.
According to a publication Lex unearths, the bodies of two of the Romanovs were never recovered. Imagine if Tsarevitch Alexei, one of the two the report claimed as missing, survived and was rescued by a soldier, and that he lived on under another name and died in a penal camp and, without knowing it, Lex’s Russian mother is a daughter of…
This frenzied identification between the blood brothers Lex and Alexei assumes dizzying proportions. The noise barrier that closes the young researcher off from the outside world recalls the situation in which the imprisoned Romanov family found themselves. ‘Alexei’s life, by which I mean his life as the heir to the throne, ended behind a newly erected high fence. From behind another kind of high fence, also recently erected, he now continued that life.’ Ultimately Lex is headed for complete disillusionment. The reader realises this and is consequently able to enjoy the feeling of being an accomplice before the fact. After a number of ingeniously anticipated twists in the plot the reader sees that he has been misled from the very beginning.
The past is not an encyclopedia of unequivocal facts but an endless collection of stories. Diverse authors of historical novels have shown this in recent years. In this entertaining novel Rascha Peper proves once more that fictional speculation about history can be both fruitful and inspiring.