AN IMPERIAL AFFAIR by Gretchen Haskin


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Attempts to rescue Czar Nicholas & Family from mid-Siberian captivity have figured in historical fiction before; but here such an attempt (along with yet another theory suggesting that the Romanovs were not executed in 1918) is just the final episode in the leisurely, literate adventures of George Sergius Romanovsky, a cousin of the Czar who serves as a diplomat in safe Chicago and San Francisco during the Russian Revolutionary tumult. George, whose father was scythed to death by a rioting peasant in 1905, is an aloof, cynical dandy married to a dull American heiress and dabbling in a Frisco affair with earthy, elegant Luba--Russian wife of his best U.S. friend. So when an American/British government team asks George to help rescue cousin Nicky in Siberia--they need someone whom the Czar will trust on sight--he's thoroughly uninterested. Pressure is applied, however (chiefly an offer of $5000 a year for life), and George is off to Vladivostok incognito as a badly dressed (horrors!) Great Siberian Railway engineer. The first jag on the Trans-Siberian journey is rather a lark--George rides in a lavish private car with a doting old servant (and offers sanctuary to a homely, carnal lady)--but there's rougher stuff ahead: when the train hits a rail snag, pistol-packing George commandeers it and forces it along a hazardous alternate route; and then a renegade General grabs the train, shoots the dear old servant, and compels George to ride in crammed third-class with the smelly, sick hoi-polloi. Thus, by the time George makes it to Ekaterinburg for the rescue try, he's something of an ill, changed man. And the mostly-successful escape operation--crawling through a tunnel, killing the servants and using the bodies to suggest dead Romanovs, the death of the bruised hemophiliac prince en route--presumably changes him still more. Despite all this, however, Haskin's story doesn't really work as a novel-of-character-transformation: George's feelings remain one-dimensional throughout. Nor does the action, which is intermittently arresting, snowball effectively. Still, it's an appealing, scenic gathering of sequences, full of authentic Trans-Siberian touches, with a graceful little something for lovers of such assorted genres as railway travel, derring-do, historical speculation, and aristocratic soul-searching. Un-compelling but very attractive.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Dial