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The House of Special Purpose

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From the author of The Absolutist, a propulsive novel of the Russian Revolution and the fate of the Romanovs.
Part love story, part historical epic, part tragedy, The House of Special Purpose illuminates an empire at the end of its reign.

Eighty-year-old Georgy Jachmenev is haunted by his past—a past of death, suffering, and scandal that will stay with him until the end of his days. Living in England with his beloved wife, Zoya, Georgy prepares to make one final journey back to the Russia he once knew and loved, the Russia that both destroyed and defined him. As Georgy remembers days gone by, we are transported to St. Petersburg, to the Winter Palace of the czar, in the early twentieth century—a time of change, threat, and bloody revolution. As Georgy overturns the most painful stone of all, we uncover the story of the house of special purpose.

469 pages, Paperback

First published May 15, 2009

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About the author

John Boyne

58 books11k followers
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, and studied English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by UEA.

I’ve published 14 novels for adults, 6 novels for younger readers, and a short story collection. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas was a New York Times no.1 Bestseller and was adapted for a feature film, a play, a ballet and an opera, selling around 11 million copies worldwide.

Among my most popular books are The Heart’s Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky and My Brother’s Name is Jessica.

I’m also a regular book reviewer for The Irish Times.

In 2012, I was awarded the Hennessy Literary ‘Hall of Fame’ Award for my body of work. I’ve also won 4 Irish Book Awards, and many international literary awards, including the Que Leer Award for Novel of the Year in Spain and the Gustav Heinemann Peace Prize in Germany. In 2015, I was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia.

My novels are published in 58 languages.

My 14th adult novel, ALL THE BROKEN PLACES, a sequel and companion novel to THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS, will be published in the UK on September 15th 2022, in the US and Canada on November 29th, and in many foreign language editions in late 2022 and 2023.

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5 stars
4,908 (41%)
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3 stars
1,917 (16%)
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138 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,295 reviews
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
October 22, 2019
Tender and compelling, a fascinating and engrossing story that make me grateful for historical fictional novels like The House of Special Purpose Just the book I needed to take me out of my reading slump 5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

John Boyne is one of Ireland’s most diverse and creative writers and I absolutely love when he has a new book published however when I am awaiting his next book release I have to make do with a re-read and when my bookgroup chose The House of Special Purpose as our monthly read I really was thrilled at the opportunity to take this one off my real life book shelf and turn the pages once again.

An historical fiction novel set in St Petersburg in the early 20th Century, George Jachnenev a 17 year old boy and son of a common labourer in the small town of Kashin , steps in front of an assassin’s bullet which was intended for The Tsars Uncle, as a reward For Georgy’s heroism he is favoured with a position as companion to Tsarevich Alexei which changes his life forever.

Extremely well written and while I have read numerous non fiction accounts of this time in history I am always up for a fiction account and have no issue with the author taking liberties with facts to Create a moving and entertaining story as long as the author is sensitive to the time and events in history.

John Boyne has a remarkable way with words and his books are memorable and vivid and I look forward to seeing where his next novel takes me.

For lovers of historical fiction who enjoy a twist in the tale. For readers who enjoy a more comprehensive history of the time check out
Nicholas and Alexandra
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie
The Romanovs The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie The Romanovs: The Final Chapter
or The Romanovs: 1613-1918 The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Profile Image for Debra .
2,416 reviews35.2k followers
January 12, 2018
So enjoyable!

It is always quite enjoyable to read a book which is so well written and engaging. This book of historical fiction brings one man's past and present together. Eighty-year-old Georgy Jachmenev is currently living in England with his wife Zoya. His wife is ill and as he reflects on their life, it is evident that their life was not as common as their friends believed. Georgy Jachmenev's life began in Russia and as he looks back on his life, we learn about his ties to Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. Through an act of heroism, he is brought into the world of the Romanov's during the time of the Russian Revolution.

I really liked the alternating timeline story telling. This book begins toward the end of a man's life and weaves its way back to the beginning of his tale. It was a nice way to bring the story full circle and back to that fateful day in the House of Special Purpose. It is obvious that the Author did a lot of research for this book. He tells one man's story of survival, hope, love, resiliency, pain, and heartache while keeping with the historical events leading up the execution of the last czar of Russia(and his family).

I have read a couple of stinkers lately and it was like a breath of fresh air reading such a finely crafted book. Extremely well written. This book is like a slow burn -it's not a page turner but I felt myself seeping into this story. This book is interesting, thought provoking, and riveting.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com

Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews667 followers
September 2, 2019
A story of escape, exile, survival and love which spans nearly eighty years and three continents.

Georgy finds the course of his life is altered when he becomes the young bodyguard to Prince Alexei Romanov. I is here that he also finds the love of his life. It is a time of growing unrest in Russia and fate steps in to shape their lives in a way they never expected. Once the Bolsheviks have taken control of the Palace, the outcome for the Romanov family was a fait accompli. It is no place for Romanov supporters either and the two protagonists must act accordingly. Georgy and Zoya flee to Minsk, then Paris and finally settle in London to share a life of love but one tinged with loss. A life always spent looking over their shoulders. The story shifts around in time, from 1981 back to 1917, the 1940s and 50s as Georgy at Zoya’s hospital bedside remembers their life together, their daughter, their work and their constant fear.

What an enthralling, fascinating and totally satisfying read. John Boyne has obviously fully researched the last Tsar in Russia and his family and the Russian revolution. Boyne faithfully portrays the historical events taking place in Russia 1915 – 1917, but with an interesting take on one particular aspect. But it’s in the telling that he weaves a delicious story of exile, survival and a deep and abiding love, which never devolves into melodrama.

Everything this author touches turns to gold. 4★ Most Highly Recommended
Profile Image for Liz.
2,141 reviews2,758 followers
May 12, 2022
I’ve been a big fan of John Boyne’s recent works and have been trying to work my way through his earlier works. While this book has none of what I consider his later trademark humor, it’s still a moving, character rich story. The House of Special Purpose covers the last years of the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs. The story follows a nonlinear timeline. In the “present day” of the 1980’s, Georgy is an 85 year old retired librarian in London. His wife, Zoya, is dying of cancer. But in his youth, despite being a common farm boy, he was picked to be the companion to Tsarevich Alexei, the young son of Tsar Nicholas II. Jumping around the decades, we see his exit from Russia, his role in the Second World War, the abdication of the Tsar, the death of the royals and their time in Paris during the 1920s.
The Romanovs have been portrayed numerous times. Here, the Tsar is painted as a warm man, one who doesn’t stand on ceremony. His wife, Tsarina Alexandra, is the opposite. Georgy develops a romantic relationship with the young Anastasia.
This is an atypical historical fiction. It doesn’t hew to the facts and takes various licenses with the truth. It includes various myths, like Rasputin being impervious to poison. It’s much more a character study than a history lesson.
It’s also a slow moving story, with not much happening for the first third as it introduces us to the various characters. Boyne’s writing is a treat and it is easy to envision the scenes he depicts. It was obvious from early on what the surprise was meant to be. But that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story.
I both read and listened to this. Stephan Rusnicki was the narrator. His Russian accent was perfect, not too thick to impede my understanding.
Profile Image for Megan.
94 reviews22 followers
July 8, 2021
This might be the most perfect book I have ever read.

I picked it up at a library book sale because I couldn't walk out without buying something, and I recognized the title referring to Ipatiev House from my long-term obsession with the Romanovs and Imperial Russia. Within the first half dozen pages, I found out the main character is a librarian at the British Library; I thought, wow, this was a better find than I was expecting--I just got my library science degree, and special collections like the BL are near and dear to my heart. Other little personal touches kept popping out at me the whole time, and even though I've said before I never know if I like a book until the last page, this one was a consistent 5-stars for me from page one.

Georgy Daniilvech Jachmenev is an 80-year-old retired librarian living in London and trying to come to grips with the fact that his wife is dying. Before that, he was a peasant farmer in a tiny Russian village; accidentally saving the life of a member of the Imperial family, he is whisked away to glamorous St. Petersburg to become the bodyguard to the most important person in Russia: Tsarevich Alexei Romanov.

The book also utilizes one of my favorite storytelling methods, too: mixing up the timeline. It starts near the end, with the narrator as an old man in London; the second chapter goes into his boyhood in Russia at the end of the last century. Every other chapter, then, moves the "present" part back a decade and the "past" part forward a couple of years until they join up.

Honestly, everything about this book was perfect, and it wasn't just the subject matter, because I generally don't even try fiction about the Romanovs. But I don't mind telling you, I cried through the last three chapters, and that was a good, good thing.

My favorite way to read a book is to know as little as possible about it going in, so that's all I'm going to say about the plot--I think that knowing absolutely nothing about the book made it a better experience for me, and so I think your experience will also be better if you don't know any more. If this makes you want to read it, then it's enough. Go enjoy this book!
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
890 reviews306 followers
July 19, 2021
4.5 stars rounded to 5.
For the prospective readers, please be warned: this is a work of fiction. If you need historical accuracies this book is not for you. If you are looking for an action book, this is not for you.
Now, if you just want to be entertained with a good romanticized drama or a good storytelling, then this is a perfect choice.
In the beginning I had doubts that I was going to enjoy this book, because it didn’t grab me right away.
Fortunately things changed and I just did not want to stop reading it.
The writing is superb and the author’s imagination is terrific!
His talent as a storyteller is awesome. And he knows how to add emotion in depth (well, some readers may consider it melodramatic).
I absolutely loved the storyline, which include recounts of the Romanov family and Rasputin. It’s quite remarkable and I absolutely loved the structure. The timeline was skillfully done, mixing the past and the current time going backwards (from 1981 to 1918 and the last chapter being 1981).
The description of the Winter Palace was so vivid that it brought back memories of my visit to the Hermitage Museum, where I was totally mesmerized by its size and (sickening) opulence.
The small scenes with Rasputin were so powerful (in my opinion) that I was fascinated and repulsed and at the same time I wanted to be physically touched. I really believed that I was in his presence.
That’s a talent that this author has.
This is my 7th book by John Boyne, who once again impressed me. Only recently I heard about this book, which was released back in 2009.
A big thanks to Jane Upshall for mentioning this book!
I can hardly wait for his new book coming next month (the ARC is available now, but I’d rather wait for the final product).
Profile Image for Rob.
511 reviews119 followers
January 13, 2020
A stand alone novel by John Boyne published 2009.

As with every John Boyne book I have read this is, again, something special.

This is a love story with the Russian revolution as a backdrop.

For all the horrors that surround the Russian revolution there is a grace and gentility here that is quite uplifting.

A young man, Georgy, is removed from his hard working, impoverished life and dropped right into the middle of opulence that he found hard to comprehend. The opulence is so over whelming its like being in the middle of a dream.
This is what life is like in the household of the Romanov’s. To make matters worse when Georgy see the Princess Anastasia for the first time he knows that his life will never be the same.
We join the story during the First World War where the Russians are loosing their young men at an alarming rate. The Tsar doesn’t know it yet but there is about to be a revolution and he and his family will be put in front of a firing squad. But for the meantime it’s life as usual.
Jump to the 1960’s. Georgy and his wife Zoya have been living in London for forty, something, years and Zoya is near to death. The story then goes slowly backwards and along the way we discover what the circumstances were that lead Georgy and Zoya to be living in London.
I know that this will sound like the blurb on the cover but this truly is an epic tale of love on a grand scale. The hardships faced by two young people trying to make a life for themselves amongst the blood and horror of war and revolution is monumental.

John Boyne is one of those few authors who, in my mind, just can’t do a thing wrong, so once again its 5 stars from me.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,449 reviews1,086 followers
August 2, 2020
3.5 stars

I still rank The Heart's Invisible Furies and A Ladder to the Sky as my favorite books by this author (and some of my favorite books in general, go read them!). However, this is still pretty good and renewed my faith in Boyne's writing after reading his somewhat lackluster latest release, A Traveler at the Gates of Wisdom.

This book is a fictional account of the ill-fated Romanov family, but delivered by a character/narrator that is outside of the royal family. This new view point and some twists to the actual historical events keeps the plot fresh. I also thought it was interesting how the book jumps around in the timeline, giving sneak peeks into things that happened in the past that were yet to be told. Some people might not like that lack of continuity though, so fair warning. Also if you are a stickler for historical fiction staying true to the actual events, this book will not be for you.
Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,156 followers
December 12, 2014
In this historical work of fiction, eighty-two year old Georgy Daniilvech Jachmenev narrates a shocking and eventful part of his younger life while serving as bodyguard to the son of the last Tsar of Russia. After a tragic and guilt-ridden beginning for Georgy, he finds true love and encounters evil, but ultimately uncovers the secret within The House of Special Purpose.

This wonderful story is told with an alternating timeline writing style that is fast-paced and comes together nicely in the end. Really enjoyed it!

Profile Image for Mariana Santos.
4 reviews36 followers
August 27, 2012
It took me a weekend to read this book . It's an easy reading , quite touching and fairly entertaining, will probably keep you hooked . People who like pretty love stories will probably adopt it as a favorite.However , the reason which made me read this was the reason why I didn't like it better.

Well,I'm obsessed with the Romanovs , have always been .When I heard that this book was related to their story I just couldn't pass by it. I wrote a history essay about their finals days when I was graduating highschool, I had done tons of research and I strangely knew every single detail about their life in the Ipatiev house and I like to think to myself that I knew each one of their characters very well. Unfortunately I can't say the same about Boyne .

* SPOILERS ahead , if you haven't read it be careful*

There were points in which I caught myself thinking if he had actually ever made a background research before writing this . He did get some details right , like the fact that Nicholas loved Anastacia ,the way he speaks to Alexandra, his fears of being murderes due to his granfather's accident, the visit to Stavka, the czarina having helped as a nurse during the war and such ; but others were almost hard for me to swallow, like for instance - spoiler alert! - the fact that Anastasia would have escaped so easily, the lack of vigilance inside the Palace, a boy with no experience at all assuming such an important , high position...! Come on Boyne! You had me rolling my eyes.
Not to mention some other details like the fact that they were , first of all ,executed in the basement and there were no windows . Secondly , during their last days every soldier of the house had their eyes fixed on every move they made - even the short period of time they were allowed outside was calculated ! So yeah , I know it's fiction Boyne , I know that we are not supposed to compare to the real thing , but I thought you went a little overboard with that ending... PS: don't you actually think that they would look for Anastasia when they saw she wasn't there? Did you really think that they would simply "forget " about her ,let her go?

I know I'm being a bully for picking on such details , even my sister was irritated when I spent 10 minutes enumerating the reasons why this story would never be possible. Well , if we pass through this fixation of mine with reality , the book was , how can I put it , enjoyable . The story of the older Georgui seemed to me to be of a better quality than the rest. It's an touching, sad book , and I think the author manages to play with the characters emotions well, and the passages which took place during memorable periods like WWII and the Cold War were also nicely built and with interesting details .

But in the end , Boyne just didn't amuse me. This was the first of his books that I've ever read , and I wouldn't pick another one eagerly. He is not very creative beyond the common place , his characters, excluding the main ones , are unidimensional , plain and poorly developed. His narrative is well structured and cohesive ,objective without being too dry. But his descriptions are dull and sound rather amateurist ( i lost the count of how many times he would say "he/she looked skinnier and his/her hair had lost it's color" to describe someone sad , or how he would describe Rasputin the same way a childrens book describe the evil witch), the superficial way in which he deals with secundary characters annoyed and irritated me - they were as flat as stick figures.

It was a nice passtime , but this book is no masterpiece . I smiled , I felt sorry and sad , I even had a difficulty putting it aside , I admit it! Probably if I din't knew so much about the Romanov I would have like it quite well, but I was rather critical than amused by the fact that it deviated so much from the reality which with we are all so acquainted .
Profile Image for Belinda.
1,331 reviews181 followers
July 10, 2019
4,25 sterren - Nederlandse paperback - met dank aan minibieb Venlo 🌸🌸🌸 Quote uit het boek : Ik weet niet wat ik moet zeggen. De jongen had hemofilie; hij had wat ze noemden de “ koninklijke ziekte”, een aandoening waarover ik de bedienden wel had horen roddelen, maar waarover ik nooit had nagedacht. Wijlen de Engelse koningin Victoria, de grootmoeder van de tsarina, was drager geweest en aangezien zij de meesten van haar en kleinkinderen had uitgehuwelijkt aan de prinsen en prinsessen van Europa was de ziekte een beschamend geheim aan veel koninklijke hoven. Waaronder het onze. Ze hadden me dit eerder moeten vertellen dacht ik bitter. Ze hadden me moeten vertrouwen. Per slot van rekening zou ik nog liever een mes in mijn eigen hart steken dan de tsarevitsj enig leed te laten overkomen. 🌷🌷🌷
Mooi verhaal wat een tijdspanne van meer dan tachtig jaar beslaat. En boeren jongen komt na het voorkomen van een moordaanslag op een lid van de koninklijke familie als lijfwacht te werken in het Winterpaleis. Daarnaast loopt een verhaal van twee gevluchte Russen in Londen. De angst van hen om ontdekt te worden, ondanks het diep ondergedoken zitten. Twee verhaallijnen die continu omspringen. De tijdspanne moet je goed volgen anders ben je de draad kwijt. Toch wordt het nergens saai. Hier en daar zorgde teveel aan info wel voor wat oponthoud in de verhaallijn. 🦋🦋🦋
Profile Image for Monica.
Author 4 books272 followers
August 21, 2017
Una historia muy bien contada, donde la ficción me mezcla a tal punto con la realidad que el resultado es maravilloso. Los Romanov son un tema que me llama muchísimo la atención por eso no dudé en leer este libro. Tuve mis dudas por que solo había leído el niño con el pijama de rayas y me asustaba que fuera a seguir la linea infantil de este, pero no fue el caso.

Me encantó como se fue enmarañando la trama y nos soltaba al mismo tiempo datos, el recurso de recordar y vivirlo con el personaje me gustó y es un libro que si te gusta esta familia y quisieras conocer un poco más sobre ellos y todas las teorías que surgieron a partir de su asesinato, no te lo puedes perder.
Profile Image for NILTON TEIXEIRA.
890 reviews306 followers
May 29, 2022
4.5 stars rounded to 5.
For the prospective readers, please be warned: this is a work of fiction. If you need historical accuracies this book is not for you. If you are looking for an action book, this is not for you.
Now, if you just want to be entertained with a good romanticized drama or a good storytelling, then this is a perfect choice.
In the beginning I had doubts that I was going to enjoy this book, because it didn’t grab me right away.
Fortunately things changed and I just did not want to stop reading it.
The writing is superb and the author’s imagination is terrific!
His talent as a storyteller is awesome. And he knows how to add emotion in depth (well, some readers may consider it melodramatic).
I absolutely loved the storyline, which include recounts of the Romanov family and Rasputin. It’s quite remarkable and I absolutely loved the structure. The timeline was skillfully done, mixing the past and the current time going backwards (from 1981 to 1918 and the last chapter being 1981).
The description of the Winter Palace was so vivid that it brought back memories of my visit to the Hermitage Museum, where I was totally mesmerized by its size and (sickening) opulence.
The small scenes with Rasputin were so powerful (in my opinion) that I was fascinated and repulsed and at the same time I wanted to be physically touched. I really believed that I was in his presence.
That’s a talent that this author has.
This is my 7th book by John Boyne, who once again impressed me. Only recently I heard about this book, which was released back in 2009.
A big thanks to Jane Upshall for mentioning this book!
I can hardly wait for his new book coming next month (the ARC is available now, but I’d rather wait for the final product).
Profile Image for Tina.
45 reviews38 followers
July 20, 2014
This is one of those books that people kept telling me to read because I am a Romanov buff. I have read just about everything about the last Tsar and his family, so it's difficult for me to read fictional accounts of them sometimes. It's not impossible, though. I love historical fiction, and the Romanovs are classic pickings for the genre - especially when you consider the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Everything I knew about the book going in pointed to my thoroughly enjoying it.

My review can be summed up in one big, resounding "Meh."

It's slow. Super slow. I figured out who Georgy's wife, Zoya, was very early on. There wasn't a whole lot of mystery to that, even though that's what the author seemed to be shooting for. The mixed up timelines didn't really bother me, but when it was all said and done, it seemed wholly unnecessary. The story could have been told in a linear fashion, which would have made it a much cleaner book. The switching timelines seemed to add suspense where there didn't really need to be any. A lot of the book seems forced, and even though you're supposed to suspend belief when reading a novel, this was a lot.

I didn't like the narrator at all. He's immature and naive, and somehow always manages to be right in the middle of the big historic events. Give me a freaking break. Quite honestly, I thought the book would have been much more effective told from his wife's perspective, and as I read, I was kind of surprised that the author DIDN'T use her as a narrator. She's much more immersed in the plot, and I would have preferred listening to her tell the story.

What really got me was how bored I was, reading this. Authors who drain the intrigue and emotion out of a story as heartbreaking as this one deserve a medal, because that is some feat. The big, fundamental flaw of this one is that it's clearly overthought. Coco Chanel said, "When accessorizing you should always take off the last thing you put on." The same is true here, and that's really a shame.
Profile Image for Cher.
817 reviews281 followers
March 26, 2016
4.5 stars - Incredible. I really loved it.

This was the first novel I read by John Boyne, and I am thrilled that I have more to choose from as I really enjoyed his writing style. This poignant tale about the Romanovs, the Russian civil war, and 60 years of a married couple's love story was simply wonderful.

The author did take a few liberties with known historical facts which is bothersome in historical fiction (I prefer the liberties to be with the unknowns, but such is personal preference), some of which were far fetched enough to require suspension of disbelief. The pacing was moderate - not a fast paced page turner but also never dull. The writing was beautiful and memorable with an infusion of subtle wit.

The story alternates between when the main character, Georgy, was a young man in the early 1900s and his modern day in the 1980s until the two stories come together with all questions answered. I loved all facets of the character's life and enjoyed the domesticity that was included as it added depth and believability to the relationship between him and his wife.

Easily recommended to fans of historical fiction! I listened to this one on audio and the narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, was fantastic, adding a whole other element of greatness to the novel.
Favorite Quote: It occurs to me that even though Zoya and I are both still alive, my life is already over. She will be taken from me soon and there will be no reason for me to continue without her. We are one person, you see. We are GeorgyandZoya.

First Sentence: My mother and father did not have a happy marriage.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,094 reviews7 followers
May 23, 2016
I have always been interested in Russian history/people but for some reason have only ever read one other book that deals with the Romanovs.

Through the eyes of the personal bodyguard of the only son of Tsar Nicolas II, the opulence of the royal family was put in sharp contrast beside the hunger, exhaustion and discontent of the masses during World War 1.

Initially the writing was wonderful and effortlessly pulled me into the story and culture of rural Russia however this great momentum started slowing down as the book progressed and to be honest towards the end the writing was reminiscent of young adult literature.

Perhaps it was a case of me wanting to read more of a historical novel and less of a star-crossed love story.

I was also disappointed that not more time was spent on the most interesting and enigmatic figure of them all, Rasputin.

What I do find very interesting is that almost 100 years after the fall of the Romanovs rumours and speculation are still very much alive around the possibility of Anastacia’s escape from the House of Special Purpose. Perhaps it’s a case of hoping that one ray of light survived this very dark mark in history.

This is not a bad book for anyone who wants to be eased into historical fiction / the Romanovs but I still feel as if I wanted more.
Profile Image for Marialyce (on our way to Venice).
2,038 reviews710 followers
July 13, 2023
John Boyne provides us with a different look at the Romanov's and Russia in this wonderfully written story. I think many of us thing of the tragedy that befell the Romanov's, when the entire family was put to death, including the children in a most heinous way. What was also heinous is that none of the relatives, rulers of other countries would accept them providing the Communists with a way to dispose of them

This story centers around eighty year old, who recalls the days of Russia and the revolution Georgy Jachmenev. who takes us back to the glory of Russia, the Winter Palace, the family, and the woman he loves. It's a sad telling for so much was lost during those dark days. He bring us into the house of special purpose and presents perhaps an alternate story to what we now think actually happened.

It was a touching story, one that told of the old Russia, the beauty of its city, the simplicity of the life the family so desired. It is sad as well, for what we now know was the heinous happening to this family.
Profile Image for Jorge Gálvez.
Author 9 books168 followers
January 12, 2021
Cuando estaba en la recta final de este libro, estuve a punto de darle una mala calificación.

Iba a criticarlo por 3 cosas, las primeras 2 las dejo para más adelante, pero la tercera era porque narraban la muerte de un personaje en un capítulo (todos los capítulos están ambientados en el pasado del protagonista), un personaje al que no conocíamos de nada, y 2 capítulos después, cuando ya sabíamos que este personaje iba a morir, ahora sí nos lo introducían y nos mostraban por qué era importante la muerte de este personaje para los protagonistas.

Pero la verdad es que me iba a quejar de esto por culpa de una negligencia mía. Por algo de lo que no me percaté sino hasta el penúltimo capítulo, algo que de hecho es bastante ingenioso y ahora se los explico.

En el libro hay 2 tipos de capítulos, los que narran la infancia y adolescencia del protagonista y los que narran su vida adulta. Los que narran su infancia tienen un título normal, como por ejemplo "El Príncipe de Kashin," y los que narran su vida adulta, el título es un año, el año en que sucede ese capítulo.

Lo que yo no me percaté nunca, es que este segundo tipo de capítulos !van hacía atrás! Y era por eso que el personaje parecía ir contando anécdotas sin mucho sentido ni coherencia, para mí parecía que sólo iba saltando de un recuerdo a otro. Hasta que en el penúltimo capítulo, los capítulos que van hacia atrás se encuentran con los capítulos de su infancia y ahí fue cuando me percaté.

Las otras 2 cosas que no me gustaron fueron por mis gustos personales, ya que este libro arranca con dos cosas que no me gusta mucho ver en los libros.

La primera es el uso de la primera persona. No me malinterpreten, un narrador en primera persona puede ser algo muy interesante si ayuda a la historia o si tiene una verdadera razón de ser, como en el libro Todos involucrados, donde a pesar de estar "dentro" de la cabeza de los protagonistas, estos pueden morir en cualquier instante. Pero en la mayoría de los casos, el uso de la primera persona es un recurso de escritores primerizos que atestigua su pereza para describir panoramas completos o pensamientos de más personajes aparte de los del protagonista. Y en este libro, ese es el caso.

La segunda cosa que no me gustó, va relacionada con la anterior. Al ser el mismo protagonista quien nos cuenta su historia a modo de flashbacks, y al iniciar el libro con el personaje ya convertido en anciano y viviendo con su esposa, ¡automáticamente ya sabemos que nada malo les va a pasar en el libro! pase lo que pase, desde el capítulo 1 ya sabemos que van a lograr sobrevivir a todo lo que se les ponga enfrente y que de una forma u otra van a lograr escapar de Rusia sanos y salvos.

Esto no importaría en un libro como el de Mi nombre fue Judas, en donde lo interesante es justo eso: saber cómo es que Judas llegó a ser un hombre anciano y nos está ahora contando la historia de su juventud.

Por estas cosas le hubiera dado 2 estrellas, pero ganó la tercera debido a que es una lectura bastante ágil y casi no tiene momentos aburridos, pese a todo es una lectura entretenida.

Dejo video donde hablo más a detalle sobre este libro:

Profile Image for Joy D.
2,065 reviews239 followers
May 8, 2022
In 1981, narrator and protagonist Georgy Daniilovich Jachmenev, now in his eighties, sits by the hospital bed of his wife and reflects back on their eventful life. As a teen living in Kashin, Russia, he takes a bullet intended for the commander of the czar’s troops. As a result, he is invited to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg to work for the Romanovs. We meet the royal family: Nicholas II, his eleven-year-old heir and hemophiliac son, Alexei, and his daughters, focusing on Maria and Anastasia. We meet the czarina, Alexandra, and learn of her trust in Father Gregory (Rasputin). It features the last years of the Romanovs, the Russian Revolution, and WWII. In addition to the historical story, we learn of Georgy’s personal life, his love for his wife, Zoya, and his daughter, Arina.

Set in Russia, and later in France and England, the story is told in non-linear segments, flashing forward and backward, to tell Georgy’s life story. It is, at its heart, a love story between the two young people at opposite ends of the class spectrum. Georgy gradually becomes captivated with the royal family and is smitten with one of the daughters. It is filled with both tragedies and triumphs. The characters are well developed, with both admirable traits, flaws, and impetuous decisions.

It is beautifully told. We can picture the striking beauty of the Russian landscape and the opulent lifestyle of the Romanovs. The Romanovs are seen through Georgy’s viewpoint. He begins to feel as if he is part of their family. When the revolution comes, he tries to save them. My only slight disappointment is a few liberties taken with the historical record. I ended up treating it as an alternative history. The storytelling is wonderfully executed, and I felt fully invested from beginning to end.
Profile Image for Nicki.
386 reviews8 followers
May 21, 2012
This is the tale of a young Russian, Georgy, who finds himself as bodyguard to the Tsarevich Alexei in the final years of Romanov rule. Georgy often finds himself in the thick of things as Russia moves from a monarchy to a republic.

The novel centres around Georgy's improbable romance with one of the Grand Duchesses and his unshakeable love for his wife, another Russian emigre.

The story moves backwards and forwards between time periods as Georgy tells of his life. We see young Georgy coming to St Petersberg to serve the Imperial Family and how his relationships with various members of the family develop. We see old Georgy watching his beloved wife, Zoya, battle the end stages of cancer. We see Georgy in Paris after the October Revolution and in London from the 1930s onwards.

As a narrator, Georgy isn't always a very sympathetic character. He can be incredibly naive, which often feels like a clumsy exposition tool so the author can explain certain things to the reader. Georgy can be very self-centred, which I found quite off-putting in places. He also has an uncanny knack for being smack dab in the middle of historic events as they happen, which is highly unlikely for a peasant turned soldier. That's fine a few times, but really stretches credibility when it happens time and time again.

The story plods at times, but I stuck with it because the fall of the Romanovs is one of those subjects that has always fascinated me. The history is a bit off in places, but will only jar if you already know a fair bit about what happened to the Romanovs in the House of Special Purpose in Ekaterinburg.

There is a twist to the tale, which I guessed early on, but I won't spoil it for you if you want to read this.

The most interesting bits for me were those set in revolutionary Russia. I could have done without some of the interim years, like Georgy and Zoya's domesticity. I guess the author felt that much of that was needed to put the central secret in context, but I thought it was unnecessary. Overall, I thought the novel needed to be pacier to make it into a real page-turner.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sofia.
1,180 reviews213 followers
October 28, 2018
Not my favourite Boyne. Maybe because I couldn't buy into romanticising the story. A story which objectively I know caused the suffering of many, many, many people, not just one family. So I kept thinking of all the families not written about, forgotten, like Georgy's own family. Lost into oblivion. And so why all the special care for one family.

I like the pace and the writing in his The Heart's Invisible Furies and A Ladder to the Sky much better.
Profile Image for Banafsheh Serov.
Author 5 books84 followers
July 15, 2010
The House of Special Purpose
John Boyle

Georgy Daniilavich is a Russian peasant whose life takes a dramatic turn when he saves the life of Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholavich, the uncle of Tsar Nicholas II. Moved to the Winter Palace in Petrograd, Georgy finds himself at the centre of the Royal life at a time of great turmoil in Russian history.
Going back and forth between the Russian Court and Georgy’s later life in London - where he lives in exile with his wife Zoya – the story follows the events that have conspired in changing Georgy’s life forever.
The brutal murder of the Tsar and his family has always been one of the most talked about focal points of the Russian revolution. Since then, there has been much speculation surrounding the Tsar’s youngest daughter, Anastasia, surviving the execution. It is these myths that Boyle weaves into his story as we move closer to the events of that faithful day and the true identity of Georgy’s wife Zoya.
Already a fan of John Boyle, I was drawn to The House of Special Purpose by its historical content. Although much research has obviously gone into making the story credible, the story itself is disappointing. Despite Boyle’s attempt to tease out Zoya’s identity, it is clear from quite early on in the book who she is. With the mystery of Zoya taken out, the story’s strength becomes its historical context and at the heart of it, the love affair of the two main characters. And although the blossoming love affair is tender and touching, the historical points seem forced in their delivery. 3 stars
Profile Image for Tracey.
425 reviews93 followers
July 12, 2018
Although the subject matter is right up my street this book failed to grab me like so many of Boynes books have..
The story of Georgy Jachmenev, son of a poor farmer from a small village in Russia. Georgy is proclaimed a hero after stepping in front of a bullet intended for a senior member of the Russian imperial family and whisked off to St Petersburg to become a guard and companion to the Tsars young son.
Georgy ends up falling in love with one of the Tsars daughters and if you like me know the story of what happened on that fateful day July 17 1918 then you might want to read this romantised take on the story, especially as it is the 100th anniversary this month.
Lots of stories of one of the daughters surviving have surfaced during my life time and personally I would have liked it to be true, but recent finds say that Anastasia died alongside the rest of her family in the massacre that ended a dynasty.
Profile Image for Leire R..
72 reviews16 followers
September 19, 2020
Decepcionante. No ahonda en el trasfondo histórico ni en la ambientación, y mira que podía haber dado juego. El gran secreto que parece mover toda la trama se puede adivinar a las pocas paginas. Me ha parecido básicamente una historia romántica imposible de creer. Una lástima cuando no te convence un libro con tan buenas opiniones.
Profile Image for Margarida.
131 reviews48 followers
May 10, 2022
Uau! Um dos melhores livros que li nos últimos tempos! Foi o primeiro livro de John Boyne que li e adorei a forma como escreve. Vi o filme baseado no seu livro “O rapaz do pijama às riscas”, que adorei e… um dia destes vou de certeza ler o livro. Adorei a escrita de John Boyne.
Acho que o autor fez um óptimo trabalho de investigação sobre a Rússia Imperial e a Rússia a caminho de uma revolução e enquadrou na perfeição personagens reais com personagens de ficção. Embora se trate de uma nova (mais uma) abordagem à saga/mistério dos Romanov, à dúvida/mistério que existiu durante muito tempo sobre se realmente todos foram assassinados ou se Anastasia teria sobrevivido, fê-lo de uma forma tão diferente que me cativou profundamente.
A historia é contada na primeira pessoa por um homem, Georgy Jachmenev, um bibliotecário reformado que reside em Londres, e que, com 80 anos, acompanha os últimos momentos da esposa, internada num hospital. Alterna entre presente e passado conforme vai recordando os acontecimentos que mudaram sua vida, desde o momento em que, acidentalmente, salvou o grão-duque Nicolau Nicolaievitch, irmão do czar, até ao momento em que conheceu o grande amor da sua vida e como a partir daí toda a sua vida se alterou: como passou de um simples camponês numa pequena aldeia russa a guarda-costas do filho do czar e futuro czar!.
Ao ler este livro senti uma série de emoções… Geórgui é um homem bondoso, doce e o seu amor pela esposa é tão comovente que me fez, em muitas ocasiões, quase chorar. A sua lealdade ao Czar é igualmente comovente. Aquando da revolução podia, e tinha tudo para se ter se revoltado, mas permaneceu fiel aos Romanov e firme nas suas crenças. Por toda uma vida!
Todo o livro é, para além de uma abordagem histórica a factos que mudaram o mundo, uma elegia ao amor! É acima de tudo uma história de amor que atravessou todo um século de mudanças, mas que se manteve fiel ao seu amor e às suas origens, quer na alegria quer na adversidade! Um livro excepcional em todos os sentidos: um grande romance histórico mas acima de tudo um romance de amor que arrebatará até os corações mais frios… e quem gostar da história da Rússia, não pode deixar de ler este livro.
Um dos melhores romances históricos que já li nos últimos tempos. O autor sabe como “agarrar-nos” desde o início e manter-nos agarrados de tal forma que não queremos largar o livro.
O fim, embora previsível não deixa de ser arrebatador! A forma como o autor junta presente e passado no final é divinal! Adorei cada momento do livro: a História, a aventura, o mistério e o romance.
Muito bem escrito! Recomendo! Infelizmente acho que não está editado em Portugal, o que é realmente uma pena, porque é um livro que vale mesmo, mesmo a pena ler! Se puderem ler nem que seja versão original, aconselho: é mesmo muito, muito bom!

Profile Image for Morgan.
292 reviews60 followers
June 1, 2017
I have tried to prolong my reading of this book as long as humanly possible while still progressing with it. I never wanted it to end. And as it came to a close (I was in tears, surprise surprise) it still came way too soon. I don't believe there was a character I disliked or one that I hated hearing from, the exception being the craziness that is Rasputin/Father Gregory. My heart feels for each of these characters and I want to reread this and hope for a better outcome. Needless to say, this is one of my all-time favorite historical fictions.

I loved the fact that the story started in the present and bounced back and forth to the past. But instead of both continuing forward, the present worked in reverse. With each section we came closer and closer to the year of 1918. I don't know if I explained that in a coherent way, but I tried really hard! It was a bit disorienting at the beginning, but I quickly fell in love with it. I loved that we traveled backward through the decades and got a peek into several historical moments, like Stalin's death and Queen Elizabeth's coronation. The House of Special Purpose is a work of art and I would more than love to hear how the author went about writing it (chronologically and then came up with the order later? Mix and matched after the book was finished? Or the way it was presented in the book?)

This book will forever be close to my heart, as I adored every moment of it. It was emotional to say the least, as I knew it would be, but I would read it again in a second.


We clinked our glasses together and returned to our meals, a family of four already, not three.

I shook the globe and the collection of snowflakes which had been resting peacefully on its base rose upward in the water, floating gently toward the roof of the palace before defending slowly, and the characters in my memory emerged from their hidden places and looked toward the skies, their hand outstretched, smiling at each other, together once again, wishing that these moments might never end and the future might never come.

"I wanted you to know," he said, his voice choked up as if he was trying to stop himself from crying, "I wanted you to know that you can be my brother if you like. As long as you let me be yours."

"And your own medical history—have you suffered from any major traumas during your life?"

There was a moment of vacillation on her part and then Zoya suddenly burst out laughing at the doctor's question and I turned to look at her in surprise.

We are one person, you see. We are GeorgyandZoya.
Profile Image for Julia.
161 reviews19 followers
December 14, 2010
I've always been fascinated by the Russian Revolution, although I know that it wasn't romantic or beautiful in real life. Still, I love reading books about Russian princesses and balls in sparkling halls. John Boyne did a great job in creating his story about the last Tsar and his family, especially by choosing to use the voice of someone who had - at first - nothing in commom with the royal family. I thought that the love story between Anastasia and the main character was really well elaborated and though it's a very uncommon story, I could totally imagine it actually happening. I don't want to give anything away but it's a great book which will make you travel many miles into the long lost Russian monarchy. It's a sad story, so grab a few tissues before getting comfortable. I also loved the structure of the novel - going back and forth in time to the most important happenings in Georgy's life was a really good idea of John Boyne. Well, it's a great book. It's definitely worth your time.
Profile Image for Jules.
13 reviews9 followers
April 15, 2019
John Boyne definitely knows how to tell a story and I would have enjoyed this a lot more if it wasn't for the historical inaccuracies. Being very interested in the story of the Romanows and having read quite a bit about them, I just couldn't look past them.
I am however very much looking forward to reading other Boyne novels as I very much enjoyed his authorial voice.
On a very sad note....I will always remember this book as the one that I finished reading the night that Notre Dame burned down in Paris ;-(
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