Refugees from rebellion

2009-08-26 00:00


The House of Special Purpose

John Boyne


JOHN Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was an extraordinary, ­disturbing short novel that took the Holocaust as its central theme and wove a strange, compelling, domestic fiction around it. Now, with The House of Special Purpose, he has moved his attention to the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Romanov dynasty. But the spareness and brevity which were part of the power of the earlier novel have gone.

The story opens in 1981, with Georgy Jachmenev facing the death of his wife, Zoya, in a London hospital. They are Russians, and have lived in the British capital since between the two world wars of the 20th century, keeping to themselves, avoiding even other Russian refugees. Slowly Boyne ­unfolds their stories in a series of flashbacks which tell how Georgy, a peasant youth in Russia, catches the eye of the court and is made a bodyguard to Tsarevitch Alexei, the haemophiliac son of the Tsar.

World War 1 turns the rumbling discontent in Russia into open rebellion, and Georgy finds himself at the centre of momentous events, ­including the murder of Rasputin and the abdication of the Tsar.

I don’t want to give too much away here, although Boyne does signal where the plot is heading a little too obviously: the great surprise didn’t surprise me greatly. And somehow, the rise and rise of Georgy didn’t ring quite true either. It is all a little too improbable and too pat, although it is always readable. Not bad if you want to while away a wet afternoon or two, but not much more than that.

Margaret von Klemperer

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region


Western Cape
R10 000 - R13 500 Per Month

C# Developer

Cape Town
Tumaini Consulting
R550 000 - R600 000 Per Year


Hotel and Catering Personnel
R15 000 - R19 000 Per Month

Property [change area]

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.