One of the Hazards of Falling in Love With Your Characters
I started the lengthy and always fascinating process of research for The Last Romanov a few months before I put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard. And for the next three years, while working to complete the novel, I continued to gather a treasure trove of information. I learned about a tumultuous era in Russian history, a series of revolutions that gathered force and gave rise to Communism, transforming the political landscape of the world. I became intimately familiar with the looks, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses of Tsarina Alexandra, Tsar Nicholas II, and their five children. I studied the depth of Alexandra’s guilt at having transferred the hemophilia gene to her only son, the heir to the throne, who was born after four girls. The extent of the couple’s insulation from their disgruntled people, the thick cocoon of denial surrounding them, surprised me. And I learned about Nicholas and Alexandra’s great love for each other that might have caused the downfall of the 300-year-old Romanov Dynasty. I couldn’t stop collecting information, not even after the last period was tapped on my keyboard, my laptop was shut, and I went out to celebrate with a glass of wine. I was an obsessed woman. A voyeur! Unable to say goodbye to my charges, stop prying into their lives, unable to keep myself from digging into the mystery of the mad monk, Grigori Rasputin. I sifted through fact and fiction. Was it true that this vile womanizer was the Tsarina’s lover? Did he really cure Alexei Nikolaevich, the hemophilic heir, when the most competent doctors had failed? How did Rasputin’s penis end up in a jar of alcohol in a museum in St. Petersburg? I’m not kidding! I saw the photograph with my own eyes — a curious woman peering behind a glass jar in which an enormous penis was displayed. Well! Whose member could it be but Rasputin’s, who was alleged to have been well-endowed and to have been “dismembered” by his murderers? Further investigation revealed that this precious relic might be nothing but a strangely shaped sea-cucumber.
But I digress! The discussion is about the hazards of falling in love with your protagonists, in this case the Romanovs. The problem arose when I became more familiar with the Imperial family and, consequently, with the extent of their anti-Semitism. I faced a dilemma. Here was I, a Jewish writer, who had developed deep compassion and even love for my charges. I did what I always do when faced with a problem. I took a few days off to distance myself from my story. When I returned to the Romanovs with a fresh eye, I realized that I had already planted my own emissaries in the Imperial Court. One of them is Avram Bensheimer, a Jewish artist, whose paintings the Empress admires. Darya, the opal-eyed Toyota Dasha auntie of the Tsarevich, falls in love with Avram. He becomes a spokesman for the Jews. He voices what is taking place beyond the walls of the palace — the discrimination, the pogroms, the devastation of entire Jewish communities.
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