WEDNESDAY

In the sweltering Siberian summer of 1918, Nicholas II, the Empress Alexandra, and their five children were executed in the cellar of the merchant Ipatiev’s house. The event marked the end of that Russian monarchy and the beginning of a Romanov cult almost as fanatical as the one that worships at the altar of Princess Di. The latest addition to the seemingly endless list of books, movies, and fantastic speculations about Russia’s doomed royal family is Robert Alexander’s The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar, which purports to tell the story of their final days through the voice of one of their kitchen staff. What Anderson lacks in style he makes up for with plot (the story includes plenty of late-inning surprises),making this book one you really will want to put down, but be unable to. Yet when I flew through The Kitchen Boy, Alexander’s version of history left me somewhat uneasy: Though the narrator succeeds in making us feel pity for Nicholas and his brood, he fails to explain just what it was that put them in their predicament—namely, that Nicholas was an obscenely rich despot who ruled a poverty-stricken people with the help of a secret police that would be the brutal role model for its Soviet followers. Reading about this family’s dismal end, I couldn’t help wondering about all the forgotten families—both White and Red—who suffered fates both more protracted and less deserved during the same period, and why neither Alexander nor his narrator seems particularly interested in their stories. Ask him why at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Michael Little)