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Book Review April 5, 2004
Salnikov Saves Russia
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 3 of 3
After 200 pages of Prince Felix's chatty, entertaining, but utterly mindless memoirs, he finally begins setting the stage for his one great deed, the murder of Rasputin. After such extended exposure to his featherbrained picture of the world, it's difficult to believe that this pampered, preening idiot could do anything of significance -- or at least, anything good.

And sure enough, as Felix tells it, the murder of Rasputin was not by any means a good thing. He confides in the reader, without seeming to understand what he is saying, that when Felix and friends killed him, Rasputin was actually working to end the war by using his influence to get the Tsar to sign a peace treaty with Germany. Had Rasputin lived to accomplish this, he would have saved the Romanov dynasty, prevented the Revolution and Civil War, and probably changed the disastrous course of Central and East European politics for the entire century. But no -- Prince Felix, bringing to the task an uncharacteristic diligence and cunning, managed to prevent all that.

While trying to get close to Rasputin, Youssoupoff has several long, drunken conversations with him, in which the mad monk sounds far less mad than his patrician killer. Rasputin's plan, as recounted by Felix, was to force Nikolai II off the throne, install Alexandra, and accept peace at virtually any price: "Rasputin stared at me intently; half closing his eyes, he said after a few moments of thought: 'This is what is going to happen, my dear fellow: enough of this war, enough bloodshed. It's time to end this slaughter. Isn't Germany our brother too? The Lord said: "Thou shalt love thine enemy as thine own brother." That's why this war must cease. He [Nikolai II] constantly opposes this; she [Alexandra] won't hear of it either. Someone is certainly giving them bad advice. But what does it matter? If I give an order, they'll have to do as I say. But it's still early in the day, everything isn't quite ready.'"

This eminently sensible plan is the "ruin" which Prince Felix saw facing Russia. He never explains why. In fact, his justifications for the murder are puerile even by his own modest standards; he says that "To spare [Rasputin's] life only meant increasing the number of war victims and prolonging the country's misery." At this distance, it's difficult to see how an early peace, no matter how hasty or disadvantageous for Russia, could possibly have resulted in anything worse than what happened later, when the endless slaughter and feckless leadership of Nikolai II yielded Lenin and the Civil War.

For the Prince, the matter is simple -- a question of breeding, tailoring and bigotry. Rasputin is evil because he was "just an uncultured, cynical, avid, and unscrupulous peasant." If further proof of his evil is required, Felix offers Rasputin's wardrobe and grooming habits: "with his caftan, baggy breeches, and great top-boots he looked exactly what he was -- a peasant. He had a low, common face..."

Further proof is provided by the claim that Rasputin kept company with Jews and Germans, as Prince Felix ascertains by a bit of eavesdropping: "I could see [Rasputin]...surrounded by seven shady-looking men. Four of them were of a distinctly Jewish type, the other three were fair and curiously alike in appearance [i.e. Germans]....They looked like a group of conspirators."

And perhaps they were. But if they were in fact plotting to make an early peace, they were Russia's last hope -- no matter what their motives. And by exerting intelligent determination for the first and last time in his foolish life in the effort to kill Rasputin and keep Russia in the war, Prince Felix made a great contribution to the destruction of the world he loved. And the blathering idiot is too dim even to see it.

But that's not the worst of it. The worst is...what if this braggart fop actually invented the tale of Rasputin's end -- the Mad Monk straight-arming the Death Angel? I can live with all the horrors which proceeded from the ruling couple's reckless, idiotic infatuation with Rasputin, but losing the story of his glorious death would be a real catastrophe.

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