A fascinating history of the Russian visionary Rasputin, whose strange influence over the imperial family during the twilight of the Romanov dynasty reads like something out of a gothic novel.
Radzinsky is an accomplished playwright and biographer (The Last Tsar, 1992; Stalin,1996). Here he follows up on his earlier portrait of Nicholas II and the various figures, wholesome and malign, who orbited around him during the last years of his reign. Rasputin was a faith healer, spiritualist, drunk, and lecher. A Siberian peasant whose origins were as murky as his aims, Rasputin did not leave a terribly clear account of himself behind. Most of the primary-source texts describing him were written either by his enemies or by the secret police, and Rosengrant’s fluid translation allows us to follow the highly byzantine paper trail Rasputin bequeathed to his future biographers. Radzinsky places his young subject deep in the Siberian pastimes of alcohol and lawlessness. The climax of these early years of debauchery and violence, according to Rasputin’s own account, was a strange and overwhelming epiphany that literally hit him in the face, inducing in him a cleansing repentance from the blood and pain of his youth. He left a young family for years of penitential wandering across the length and breadth of “Holy Russia,” and eventually joined a strange flagellant cult of `Christ Believers` who mixed Orthodoxy with paganism. Sweaty, ecstatic dancing and singing led to `promiscuous sexual relations among the sect membership . . . where the Holy Spirit descended upon them . . . and the sect would try to conceive . . . new Christs and Mothers of God.` Soon Rasputin had developed a cult of his own, one that eventually brought him to the attention of the imperial court. Radzinsky reveals the secret behind Rasputin's psycho-spiritual hold on the tsarina and many other powerful women and men, and fleshes out the wide picture of Rasputin's many friends and foes, including the wealthy transvestite who murders him.
A compelling biography of one of the great historical enigmas of the last century. (24 pages of b&w photos and illustration)