Last Romanov

Last Romanov

by Dora Levy Mossanen


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402265945
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/03/2012
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 238,585
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Born in Israel and raised in Iran, Dora Levy Mossanen fled to the United States at the onset of the Islamic Revolution. She is the recipient of the San Diego Editor's Choice award and the author of Harem and the international bestseller Courtesan, which have both been translated into numerous languages. She is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and a graduate of the USC masters of professional writing program. She lives in Beverly Hills, California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

- 1991 -

Darya Borisovna Spiridova is startled awake by a persistent knock at her front door. Butterflies flutter against her skin, weave their way around her silver curls, rustle under the covers. A cloud of butterflies floats out of the bedroom and into the vestibule.

Draped in a shawl of fine satin, the cane of Tsar Nicholas II in one hand and an oil-burner in another, she quietly slips across the corridor of the crumbling Entertainment Palace to confront the massive oak door.

Little Servant appears, carrying a tray of piroshki and a tumbler of vodka. His smile reveals a mouthful of gold teeth that cost Darya a pearl-encrusted cross. "May I help, Madame?"

She raises one hand to keep him at bay. With the glint of mischief in his eyes and a habit of materializing at the most inconvenient times, the dwarf can be a nuisance. "This one is for me. I will answer."

She tightens the shawl about her shoulder, her curls casting shadows in the dim light of the oil-burner as she tackles the many locks and bolts. The door heaves and clangs, then swings open with a great groan, and she comes face to face with a slit-eyed young man in a uniform the color of the Crimean shores.

"Dobroye utro!" He greets, bowing low, one hand touching the brim of a fox-furred shapka tottering on his narrow, conelike head, the other offering a cream-colored vellum envelope.

At the sight of the Association's familiar seal on the envelope, her hand flies to the miniature Fabergé egg she wears on a chain around her neck. The Russian Nobility Association is a ragged assembly of leftover aristocrats, descendants of the Scherbatovs, Golitsyns, Bobrinskois, Yusupovs, and Sheremetevs. Before the motherless Bolsheviks destroyed Russia, these aristocrats would roll their shiny carriages along the Nevsky Prospekt on the way to the Mariinsky Theater or from one palace or another, where, cuddled in furs and dazzling in jewelry, they would spoon pearly Caspian caviar and click champagne flutes with their Imperial Majesties, Tsar Nicholas Alexandrovich Romanov and Alexandra Feodorovna. They communicated in French with their children and Swiss governesses, in English with their nannies and British friends, and in Russian with their servants.

These exiled aristocrats still dream, plan, and plot to reinstate the monarchy, although they dismiss her own search for the Tsarevich, Alexei, as a mad woman's last delusion.

"Spasiba, son." Darya murmurs her thanks to the ruddy-faced messenger. She steps back to shut the door, but the boy remains rooted at the threshold, enthralled by the 104-year-old woman with mesmerizing eyes, one an orb of cracked opal. Not the type of milky opal mined from the crevices of the earth, but a lucid golden shade, defiant and full of mystery.

"You are so beautiful, so different!" He hears himself blurt out, his tongue tripping over itself. "Is it true that your opal eye can read the thoughts of animals?"

Darya aims her cracked gaze directly at him. "Humans too, Golubchik, my dear fellow. I see everything, even what I'd rather not." At her age, she has learned to accept many things...accept the crack in the opal that was caused by long-ago grief, a tragedy witnessed, a black stain that should never have happened. She has learned to accept the curiosity her eye stirs, accept that her beauty, unmarred by time or misfortune, is an oddity too. So, despite her impatience to learn what the envelope holds, she decides to answer the courageous boy, who reminds her of Little Servant twenty years before, when he appeared at her door with a mouthful of bad teeth and two fat-nosed civets in his arms, claiming his parents had been exiled to "the camps." He said he did not care that everyone thought she was a sorceress and her butterflies were Romanov spirits. In truth, he said, her eccentricities suited him well, since he was different too. He promised to work hard in return for food and shelter and claimed that his wild cats were trained to pluck red coffee cherries from bushes he promised to plant in her garden, cherries that would yield the most aromatic coffee. She had simply opened the door and let him in. And now, despite his penchant for lighting the fireplaces in her absence, his lengthy silences and the excellent vodka he distills have become agreeable additions to her solitary life.

She rubs the envelope between her palms and offers the uniformed young man a smile that reveals her own impeccable teeth. "Would you like a bottle of my homemade vodka?"

He shuffles in place, uncertain of the right protocol, whether to accept or politely refuse. Deciding on the safest course, he replies, "I don't drink, spasiba."

She lets out a rare laugh that originates in her bowels and bursts out into a volcanic mirth. "What a pity! A daily shot of good vodka keeps you healthy. But I understand, boychick, I really do. You are young, untouched by tragedies, drunk on life. Still, if you change your mind, you are welcome to a bottle of my excellent vodka."

"Is vodka the reason you look so young... Pardon me. They say you are old, but you don't look old at all. Are you old?"

"Old! Wash your mouth, boy." She cocks her head at him, searches his eyes for some evidence of malice or derision, and finding only the innocence of youth, she adds, "The secrets to my long life are my passions, obsessions, and dreams that have not changed one bit since I was seventeen, living in the Belovezh Forest with birds of paradise and wild animals. If anything, I am more driven today. Go, now, and share this with your young friends."

There is more to the secret of her longevity, of course. A chunk of ambergris she discovered on the Crimean shores remains essential to her youthful appearance. And her optimism, this ability to sustain herself on hope and a diet of memories, helps too. Even when the mix of memory and guilt will not be assuaged by the hallucinatory berries in her garden, she refuses to lose hope. Hope that the Tsarevich survived the horror of that long-ago night and, despite his age, remains in good health. Hope that she will, once more, hold him in her arms and cover his face with a million tender kisses.

"May I ask another question?" the boy says.

"Ne budet-li, be careful what you ask, young man," she replies, a puff of butterflies huddling in her cupped hand.

"Is it true that you were Tyotia Dasha of the Tsarevich, Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov?"

"The answer is yes. Da! I was his lady-in-waiting, his beloved auntie Dasha. Now, go! Schast'ya i zdorov'ya! Good luck! And remember our Tsarevich in your prayers," she replies, a cloud of butterflies fluttering around her like ornaments.

Finding her less intimidating than he was led to believe, the boy exclaims, "People say you are a sorceress and these butterflies are Romanov spirits that keep your enemies away and help you..."

"You talk too much, son. Close your mouth or you'll start burping fat toads." She gives him a gentle push with her cane and shuts the door behind him. She waves away two insistent butterflies that land on the envelope and snaps the cane at a rat that scurries across the hallway to peck at her heel. Other rats come and go, content with meager leftovers. This beady-eyed one is as greedy as every revolutionary Red that crossed her path, every bastard communist and worm-eating antimonarchist who soils his pants at the sight of her.

She breaks the seal on the envelope and pulls out a vellum note. Her heart loud in her chest, her gaze skips over the gold-embossed inscriptions. Emissaries of the Russian Nobility Association summon her to an emergency meeting at Rostislav Perfumery. Four in the afternoon, sharp. An important matter requires her immediate attention. What could have prompted this tight circle of monarchists to summon her now? She kept an eye on them through the years, following their pathetic failures to find the heir to the throne, her precious charge, her sweet Alyosha, the man who would restore the monarchy. Year after year, one or another pretender to the throne materialized, crooks and impostors with no ties to the Romanovs, not a drop of royal blood in their dry veins.

She folds the note, reflecting upon her own continuous quest around the polluted Ekaterinburg streets, the traffic-choked boulevards, soot-covered buildings, and stinking buses to scrutinize anyone who might bear a remote resemblance to her Tsarevich, her adorable prince, with melancholy eyes that reflected his suffering. She continues to travel around the country to listen to whoever might claim to have information about a Romanov, meet with one impostor after another, inspect the geography of their faces, and heap ash on their lying heads.

Little Servant reappears with his tray. "Your breakfast, Madame?"

She slips the note back in the envelope and frees a butterfly that found its way in. "Not today."

"Important news, Madame?"

"Yes, yes, an important meeting I need to attend."

"Right now, Madame?"

"No, in an eternity. Well, not quite, but so it seems. I will have to be at the perfumery in four hours."

"Perhaps Madame would like me to warm up the banya? That always helps."

"Yes, thank you. Please do." She will bathe, shampoo her hair, and enjoy a hallucinatory berry or two, a tumbler of scented vodka to pass the time. She likes the sense of lightness that every immersion in the banya brings. Bathing is a necessary ritual, her daily conduit to the past, all the way back to her childhood and her beloved parents.

The dwarf hastens to prepare the banya, intent on pleasing his mistress who, unlike others, regards him as an equal rather than a stepped-on cockroach to be swept up with the trash. As long as he can remember, he has been addressed as Little Servant, despite the fact that, apart from his height, the rest of his features are quite large: protruding eyes, hooked nose, shovel-like hands and feet. He likes living here, safe from curious stares, where he can dress as he pleases, in loose, colorful satin pants and shirts that remind him of Backschai village, where he came from. His room, despite the flaking paint and smell of mildew, is opulent by his standards, and he likes to occupy a bed that once belonged to the Grand Duchess Anastasia. He shuffles into the garden with its patch of berries, giddy butterflies, wild civets, and the vodka distillery where he ferments black figs, molasses, cumin, and currants. And he walks the same path the Tsar and Tsarina had walked seventy years before.

Set in the center of five acres of land, perched on a hill overlooking the city below, the Entertainment Palace is where Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna held symphonies and ballets after a long day of formal responsibilities. Once surrounded by groves of birch, linden, and cedar, the landscape now chokes with robusta and hybrid arabustra bushes Little Servant planted when he came here with his wild civets.

The civets continue to breed and multiply. They creep among the bushes at night and pluck coffee cherries, chew off the fruity exterior, and swallow the hard innards. Every morning, Little Servant steps out into the garden and separates, from the many clumps of civet dung, the beans that have been refined by the civets' gastric juices. Then he embarks on brewing the rarest of sweet coffees with the aroma of vanilla and chocolate.

This miraculously preserved backdrop that masks the ruins of the Bolshevik Revolution and years of civil war is the only imperial residence the communists and antimonarchists did not confiscate, for fear of the multiplying butterflies they regarded as the lingering spirits of the Romanovs.

Little Servant steps into the banya, a bathhouse built decades ago that, apart from the missing roof, remains in acceptable condition. Testing the water and finding it warm and pleasant, he stirs in a generous amount of essence of eucalyptus and orange blossom, stacks towels, and places a jar of scrubbing salts and birch whips close by. He picks five hallucinatory berries from the garden and arranges them on a decorative fig leaf in a bowl. He goes to fetch his mistress.

"The banya is ready, Madame," he formally announces.

She emerges, tossing her shawl behind and stepping out of her nightgown as Little Servant picks them up and folds them carefully on his arm. He observes her immerse herself in the aromatic water, admiring the miracle that she is. Her muscles are firm, her skin the shade of cloves of cinnamon, her golden eyes reflecting the splendor of a woman who is secure in her beauty. He never tires of searching the Entertainment Palace for something that might explain the secret of her eternal youth: an elixir, an incantation, a magical herb. Perhaps something that might add a few centimeters to his height.

He has wondered more than once whether the secret of her youth might be related to the fragrance emanating from the ever-present miniature Fabergé egg slung from a gold chain around her neck. It is a superb piece of jewelry, no larger than his thumbnail. Deep green enamel dotted with brilliant diamonds and pearls in the center of which is the likeness of a beautiful red-haired woman. When snapped open, its bold, inebriating scent is like a lover's playful slap.

Little Servant restrains Darya's hair with a scarf and adjusts a pillow behind her head. He fetches the bowl of berries. She drops two plump, shiny ones in her mouth, sucks the nectar, savors the familiar bitter-tart taste. She calls out to Little Servant to bring back the bowl of berries he is carrying away.

"Be careful, Madame, freshly picked off the vine and quite potent."

"So much the better," she replies, plucking an obstinate butterfly from the bowl and collecting the rest of the berries, enough to keep her excitement at bay until the meeting this afternoon.

Darya rests her head on the pillow, sighs contentedly, and shuts her eyes to imagine a time 104 years ago, a time before her birth, a time when aurochs roamed wild in the Belovezh Forest and Sabrina was a woman free of care.

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Last Romanov 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 350 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was immediately swept up in the story. It grabs you from the start. I loved how the author stays true to the history of the time, while at the same time creating such a dramatic and heart-wrenching story. There are so many different factors in the life of the main character, Darya, such as love, wisdom, and of course, her past that she must now face, and yet it isn't too much to swallow. It is just the right amount. How Mossanen has delved so deeply into Darya's life while at the same time staying true to the political history of the time without even making the history seem boring is a mystery and a miracle.
MyBookAddictionandMore More than 1 year ago
THE LAST ROMANOV by Dora Levy Mossanen is an impressive historical fiction set in Russia. This is the story of the Romanov’s,a Royal family and the orphan left behind. It is written with vivid descriptions and details that brings Imperial Russia,the Royal family and the Romanov’s to life. A story of mystery,redemption,prophecy,myths,a royal family,murder,second changes,magic and tragedy. So sit back and enjoy your journey with “The Last Romanov” you will not regret it and will learn volumes. Ms. Mossanen has a way of drawing the reader into this story as she weaves history with mystery,and magic. I would recommend “The Last Romanov” to anyone who enjoys history,Russian history,fantasy,Empress Alexandra,Anastasia,Tudor fiction,and Russian Royals. A wonderful read for all! Received for an honest review from the publisher. Details can be found at Sourcebooks Landmark,the author’s website,and My Book Addiction and More. RATING: 4 HEAT RATING: SWEET REVIEWED BY: AprilR,My Book Addiction and More
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read the book for a book club - I found this to be a difficult book to finish. The author's excessive use of detail didn't add anything to the plot or the development of characters. I'm not all that familiar with historical based fiction, and was sincerely looking forward to seeing how the two can mix. The weave of history was more interesting than the fictional story. I'm still struggling to figure out what the author was going for. Is this a love story? Is this a story about loss? Is it a story about mystical magic? Is this about history? Too many questions unanswered, and an extremely disappointing ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Actually really good.excellent detail and interesting historical plot.loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book because I needed a something to read during my vacation. I had never read anything by this author before, but am a fan of historical novels. I loved it! It is well written, with great charecter development and an interesting perspective on known historical figures. The author blends fact and fiction seamlessly. I enjoyed the story so much that I didn't want to put it down, and finished the book in only 3 days. Better yet, I got the book on sale!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful historical novel. Love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Romanovs' lives and deaths, the mystical Rasputin and the addition of the fictional Darya, the 100+ year old sorcereress, keeps the story fresh and entertaining. Although fiction, this rendering of the last Tsar leaves you wanting to learn more about this time in Russian history. A must read.
mollyputzMB More than 1 year ago
I'll admit to a limitless interest in the Romanovs and the fate of the Russian Royal Family. I still enjoyed this wonderful work of fiction, as the author included a pivotal character that made sense. That character, Darya,had the ear of the Empress, as well as care of the Tsarevich. The interactions between Darya and the Royal Family, Rasputin, various artists and political figures feel as though they could have happened.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you have had a fascination with the Russian Revolution and the Romanov family this is different from anything I have read before.
cieastin More than 1 year ago
I recommend going to the back of the book and reading the Author's Notes before reading this book; knowing Ms. Mossanen's backstory gives me additional respect for how she described the events in Darya's life and Darya's emotions as she watched her country self-destruct. I appreciate how well researched the book is, and I appreciate the historical figures sprinkled in the character list -- with true historical events that furthered the story line. This book is a fascinating look into the lavish manner in which the Romanovs lived and how naive they were about what was really important to the people of their country. A man in Nicholas II's position should have been more concerned about the economic well-being of the common people, and less concerned about preserving the monarchy. The book feels very "Russian;" it was depressing -- as so many Russian books are! Nevertheless, it kept drawing me back in, wondering what would happen next -- even knowing at least part how things ended. The reason I gave the book three stars is the occasional crude sexual content and occasional gutter language that I feel didn't enhance the book, but diminished it. I am subjected to more than enough of that sort of behavior/language everywhere else -- I don't want to read it in my books, too. I don't suppose it would bother most people, but it bothered me. I would have given it fours stars, otherwise. I would recommend this book to anyone who is not bothered by the above. Well written, unique (Definately Not Disney's "Anastasia!"), it piques one's interest to go find out what really happened -- to me, the sign of a very good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An emotional tide of hustory--sad and hopeful, peopled by unforgetable characters who draw the reader in until you can't shake them from your mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved This Book--If you are interested in Russian/Tsar history, this is a great historical fiction read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the character of Darya with all of her strength and intelligence. It is rare to find true loyalty in our time and nothing will dissuade her love for the romanov family. The characters shine in this novel, especially Darya and Avram. If you are a fan of historical fiction then this is a story you will enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am an avid reader of many generes including historical fiction and I absolutely adored this book! The mysticism gave what could have been a dusty plot some edge, yet never felt too silly or hokey. For those who have complained about the ( gasp!) "magic" or that this novel didn't have a happily ever after ending, you can stick to your predictable and cliche romance novels. I found this book to be heartbreaking, breathtaking, and entirely satisfying. And I have to point out to the people who complained that the author made the character of Rasputan too disgusting and gross: he was a REAL person who lived in the royal household and by most historical accounts was a filthy, drunk, womanizer who gave many people the willies (including those who plotted his demise) Why the tsarina was so devoted to him and how he was able to apparently "heal" the young tsaravitch is yet another of history's unsolved mysteries. There have been a few books and TV specials devoted to historians' theories on Rasputan. Don't criticize the author or penalize her book with low reviews based on her being historically accurate with the description of this character! And, once again, enjoy reading your pleasant and predictable grocery store bodice rippers! I'll stick with this clever and entertaining book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some readers call this book depressing, but the era in which the story takes place was depressing--the bolshevik revolution plunged Russia into mayhem, bloodshed, and deprivation almost as bad as the dynasty they overthrew. The murder of the Romanovs will forever be a stain on Russia's history. This book couldn't have been written any other way for it accurately reflects the times and the events as they occured. The addition of mysticism is poetic license that in a sense reinforces the story of Rasputin & his role in the downfall of the Romanovs. Well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Historical fiction indeed! Being of Russian decent made this book even more interesting. I was able to look up people through my Nook to see the image of the people the author had been talking about. Great imaginary twist to the plot also.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you enjoy historical fiction and are intrigued by the Romanovs' tragic story, then do yourself a favor and read this book. Well written with a new twist on "what if?"....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt this book was an excellent blend of mystery, history and magic with a big dose of ironic love thrown in. The main character was enchanting and the new twist to the Romanov mystery was refreshing. To throw a unexpected curve at the books ending was icing on top of the cake. The Romanov Family is an old mystery but with books as well written as this gives us another chance to look at them from a different perspective. Many thanks to the author, I really enjoyed the book.
Ropebender More than 1 year ago
If you like historical novels with lots of characters from life, this is probably one you would like. My tastes are different. I actually thought I might like it, as I do like mysteries and novels with twists and turns. So I gave it a try, and after the first couple or three chapters I just found things I enjoyed more. Will I go back sometime and finish it? probably. I might even like it after I read more. That happened with Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables. Boring book until I waded three-quarters of the way through, then it caught.
MollyRoseLP More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book with it's mix of historical fact and fiction! I have always been fascinated by the Romanoff family and the legend of Anastatia surviving the murders. This was a very interesting twist on that event. The story pulls you in and really hoIds your interest. In an interesting footnote, as I finished the book, a news-story was on the internet last week( end of 8/12) that a boy in England found a large piece of ambergris
Wags-n-woos More than 1 year ago
This novel grips you from the first page and thrusts you into the mind of Darya Borodina Spiridova, aunt, caregiver and protector of Alexei Nikolaevich, heir to the Czar. Is she really 104 years old? Why is she surrounded by butterflies? Is the boy she sheltered still alive years after the Revolution, despite his hemophilia? You have to know and to know you have to read Darya's tragic, but hopeful story. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having just come back from St Petersburg it was refreshing to read this book! I loved it! Beautifully describes the era, the people, the places and transfers you to a time when music, art and fashion were enforced. Most of the book describes actual historical events but the main character's life Darya is fictional and it makes a good read. I won't give the plot away, but highly recommend this book for losing yourself in a dreamy place in a rainy afternoon or a hot afternoon away from the kids
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I sort of et this one to the side thinking that I would not be able to get into it, because I am the kind of reader that likes to get interested after the first chapter. It was great. Sorry that I put it on hold and was sad when it was through.