Title: The True Memoirs of Little K
Author: Adrienne Sharp
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“Exiled in Paris, tiny, one-hundred-year-old Mathilde Kschessinska sits down to write her memoirs before all that she believes to be true is forgotten. A lifetime ago, she was the vain, ambitious, impossibly charming prima ballerina absoluta of the tsar’s Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg. Now, as she looks back on her tumultuous life, she can still recall every slight she ever suffered, every conquest she ever made.
Kschessinska’s riveting storytelling soon thrusts us into a world lost to time: that great intersection of the Russian court and the Russian theater. Before the revolution, Kschessinska dominated that world as the greatest dancer of her age. At seventeen, her crisp, scything technique made her a star. So did her romance with the tsarevich Nicholas Romanov, soon to be Nicholas II. It was customary for grand dukes and sons of tsars to draw their mistresses from the ranks of the ballet, but it was not customary for them to fall in love.
The affair could not endure: when Nicholas ascended to the throne as tsar, he was forced to give up his mistress, and Kschessinska turned for consolation to his cousins, two grand dukes with whom she formed an infamous ménage à trois. But when Nicholas’s marriage to Alexandra wavered after she produced girl after girl, he came once again to visit his Little K. As the tsar’s empire–one that once made up a third of the world–began its fatal crumble, Kschessinka’s devotion to the imperial family would be tested in ways she could never have foreseen.”
Thoughts: The danger with historical fiction is that an author can take history and literally make it fantasy if not careful. This is not the case with Adrienne Sharp’s The True Memoirs of Little K. One quick Internet search showcases how much of Ms. Sharp’s tale dovetails nicely with the facts. This heightens the element of plausibility in these “True Memoirs”, adding to the reader’s overall enjoyment and fascination with the last years of the Czar.
Kschessinska is quite the character. She is selfish, egoistic, arrogant, and extremely self-centered. She is a true prima donna. However, she is extremely honest, and therein lies her charms and validity as a narrator. Instead of hiding behind her righteousness, Kschessinska tells her story, faults and all, without apologizing or defending her actions or opinions. Her actions and opinions are downright infuriating at times, and yet she is still sympathetic. As a result, there is an implicit trust and intimacy between the reader and Kschessinska that emphasizes the turmoil of Czarist Russia around the turn of the century and beyond while highlighting the difficulties one faced in remaining neutral, let alone staying alive, during the various revolts.
The downfall of the Romanovs is a well-known story, but The True Memoirs of Little K brings new life to this infamous tale. The reader sees the pressures faced by Czar Nicholas from the fringes of the elite. Of even more interest is the idea that had Kschessinska not made certain choices – to become the czar’s mistress, to align herself so publicly with the Romanov family – she may not have been in such immediate danger. That being said, Ms. Sharp excels at showing the reader just how pervasive the danger to anyone not supporting the Soviets truly was. There is no glossing over a glorious revolution or pretending the situation is more than it was. In the spirit of her total honesty, Kschessinska does not mince words when it comes to the brutality of the Soviets or the conflicting sympathies of the people. The reader leaves The True Memoirs of Little K with a clear understanding that the revolutionaries took full advantage of a terrible situation, namely the huge shortages and famines that occurred during World War, to achieve their goals even though a majority of the Russian people ultimately did not want what the Soviets were offering. It is a tragedy of epic proportions.
Adrienne Sharp’s re-envisioning of the fall of Czarist Russia is extremely well-researched and well-written. There are enough historical facts to lend credence to Kschessinska’s tales of Nicholas and Alexandra. While she may not be the most likable of characters, the reader does not doubt her story and even begins to question the history books on what are the true facts behind Nicholas’ dalliance with his mistress. The world has been fascinated with the Romanov family since their tragic demise. The True Memoirs of Little K helps explain and perpetuate that fascination.