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Mathilde Kschessinka was once one of the most talented and elegant dancers in St. Petersburg’s Imperial Ballet. She also holds notoriety as the mistress of two Grand Dukes; Sergei Mikhailovich and Andrei Vladimirovich  and the last Tsar Nicholaus II. Kschessinka having had the opportunity to experience pre-Revolutionary Russia from such a grandiose position makes the perspectives of this woman incredibly unique. Adrienne Sharp conveys the life of young Mathilde with her own family learning ballet, as a dancer with the Imperial Ballet, and as a scheming mistress of the tsar working to heighten her position in society.

The most exquisitely written portions of Sharp’s True Memoirs can be found in Little K’s opulent descriptions of her life among the Romanov’s. As a reader of the text, one can build a mental picture of the lavish gifts, elaborate jewels worn to show off to the empress at the ballet, Imperial palaces,  turn of the century Rols Royces’, chinchilla coats,  extravagant furniture, all given to Mathilde (Mala) by the Romanov men.  The scenic imagery which paints pictures of Russian landscape from St. Petersburg to Crimea also portrays a Russia incredibly serene and striking in its peacefulness and charm. In addition to Mala’s attachments to the holidays, celebrations and customs of the Imperial family, a reader could not help but thinking-at least for a second that Russia had been a perfect place to be in these times.

Little K may have viewed Imperial Russia as a perfect place. But, all of the idealizing of the Imperial family and their life which occurs in this novel without consideration for why the peasants may have been displeased with unnecessary spending by royals is questionable. Even in Sharp’s version of Little K’s memoir, Mathilde comes from a Polish family of humble origins. Her brother even supports the Revolution. For this reason, it seems a bit unlikely that Mala would view the world as selfishly as Sharp chooses to portray her in this account. Many people in the world are only concerned for themselves; however this protagonist’s over-the-top spending and drive to be tsarina make her extremely unlikeable.

As a work of historical fiction, Kschessinka’s story is one of great intrigue due to her relations with the Romanov men and the fact that she gave birth to a son, Vova, whose father may have been any one of them.  Sharp cleverly used the relationship of Mala and the tsar to construct a storyline which would install Vova as second in line to the throne after Nicholaus II. Despite the inventiveness of the plotline, most people are familiar with the final manner in which the Bolsheviks removed the most influential Romanov’s from threat of recovering control of the Russian government and throne.

Although many people undoubtedly read historical fiction because they enjoy the genre, I found it difficult to read history merely based upon facts. I found myself consistently reading interesting historical or political lines, which I was left questioning the validity of. What was true, what wasn’t, I wondered? I would have rather read a historical account. The problem with the “memoir” was that despite its being fictional, it was heavily concentrated with segments of historical and political discussion. After a few pages of history and politics, one sentence would mention how all of the events affected Little K and her evil plans.

Of course current events are an essential element affecting the lives of all people, especially those closely linked with a royal family being overthrown. Still, most memoirs are more personal pieces of writing. Generally, they involve day-to-day reflections of a person’s innermost thoughts and emotions. Sharp does convey what she defines as Kschenssinka’s “true” secrets. However, the summation of the text was filled with too much recreated history to be read as an intimate journal entry.

Final Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

For more information:

Part One:

Part Two:

Romanov history