The Week In Books 2008, No. 14

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander was such a compelling story that I read the entire book during one nap time and about an hour after the kids went to bed. The pace of the writing moves at a fast clip, but the story never gets away from the author. “The Kitchen Boy” is the sort of book that makes you think you have the whole thing figured out, and then it tricks you with a twist you didn’t see coming, but that was a fake out too, and in the end you are left feeling completely satisfied that reading the book was time well spent.

The story is based on the actual events of the final months of life for Tsar Nicolas and his family. It helps if you have some basic backgound in the events and timeline of the Russian Revolution, but if you don’t I think the context given in the novel would keep it from being confusing. The story is narrated by an elderly gentleman in America, a Russian emigre who is speaking into a tape recorder to explain things to his granddaughter in anticipation of his death. I found that structure to be particularly well done – sometimes authors who attempt that sort of story within a story wind up having trouble with consistency of pace and voice, but Alexander did an excellent job.

Another strength of the book was the fact that Alexander used actual text from the royal family’s diaries, notes, letters, and testimonies from the Russian archives in constructing his version of events, which added depth and plausibility to the narrative.

I would recommend The Kitchen Boy as an engaging and quick read, even if you’re not particularly interested in Russian history.

A friend loaned me Mimosa: A True Story by Amy Carmichael, recommending the book as a good way to keep perspective about the ways God takes care of us and blesses us in the midst of adversity. The book is the true story of a woman in India who became a believer in God as a child from one short interaction with Amy Carmichael’s mission. Although Mimosa had not had time to learn many of the most basic tenets of Christianity, she showed remarkable faith and devotion to God even when she was reviled by her family, ostracized by her community, and forced into all kinds of terrible privations and hardship. Even as she endured these trials, Mimosa clung to the ways that God had also been faithful to her, and ultimately she was able to escape with her children from some of the troubles, and even saw her husband come to faith as well. What I found most striking, however, was the fact that although Mimosa did escape some of the hardships and did live to see her husband share her faith, that is not what kept her going. Had those things not happened, she would still have considered herself blessed and kept by God. Mimosa’s story is not about how she was good so God rewarded her, it’s about the fact that God is good and Mimosa was grateful for that apart from her circumstances.

The experience of believers in other cultures certainly illuminates the rich blessings we enjoy in more open countries, and challenges us to view our own lives with more thankfulness. As I read I couldn’t help but contrast Mimosa’s story with another book I recently read about a woman facing hardship in India, “Nectar in a Sieve” by Kamala Markandaya. Although the woman in “Nectar” was fictional, the character was based on the real situations faced by women in India during that time period, and I saw similarities in the desperate hardships described in both books. The contrast was in the way the women responded to those situations, and the overall tone of the books. Mimosa’s faith gave her hope and strength and was uplifting to her spirit, whereas “Nectar” felt depressing and fatalistic.

If you have a chance to read both books, I think they would provide a good point/counterpoint for each other, but if you only have time for Mimosa I think you would find it an inspiring read.

Also Completed:
Deuteronomy, I Corinthians

Currently Reading:
Joshua, Psalms, Luke, 2 Corinthians
“Quiet Moments in Prayer” by Lloyd Ogilvie
“The Body Project” by Joan Jacobs Brumberg
“Great With Child: Letters To A Young Mother” by Beth Ann Fennelly

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