The Brynners in Far East Russia and Beyond
Email this review


Four generations of Yul Brynner’s enterprising family thrive and prosper from Switzerland to Vladivostok to Hollywood.

The author is the star’s son by B-movie actress Virginia Gilmore. Rock Brynner moved from chess prodigy and child mascot of his father’s rat-packing to hippie rock-’n’-roller, alcoholic and thriller author (The Doomsday Report, 1998, etc.) before embarking on deeply reflective research into his family’s roots in Vladivostok. There he unearthed the fascinating story of patriarch Jules Bryner, born near Geneva in 1849, who struck out to make a maritime fortune in the trading houses of Shanghai and Yokohama, then moved to the Russian frontier port of Vladivostok to seek opportunity in developing a town that would become “Ruler of the East.” An important naval outpost, Vladivostok grew with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway, and soon Bryner & Co. became a hugely successful enterprise. Jules, now a rich, established philanthropist, didn’t let the fact that he had a wife and family in Japan stop him from marrying a Russian girl and fathering numerous children. The narrative follows the perilous navigations of his second son, Boris, through the shoals of Revolution and Soviet perfidy. Branded bourgeois by the Bolsheviks, family members were imprisoned or forced to flee abroad. Boris married an opera singer; their son Yul (with an n added to the family surname) made his way as a Gypsy guitarist and trapeze artist in Europe, forging important contacts in Paris with Jean Cocteau and Mikhail Chekhov. He found defining roles on Broadway, from Lute Song with costar Mary Martin to The King and I, which brought him movie stardom as well. Contrary to the advice of his agent, he shaved off his already thinning hair to achieve the bald crown that made him famous. His son does a proficient job of soberly presenting the family saga, including, but not fawning over, its Hollywood episodes.

Dignified, useful history, especially of Vladivostok’s evolution from shantytown to modern port.

Pub Date: April 4th, 2006
ISBN: 1-58642-102-6
Page count: 348pp
Publisher: Steerforth
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2006