The Night Is Far Gone
Historical fiction isn’t always the easiest genre to read. Like a prequel to the world, we can largely guess at how it will end. I’m sure we all knew the Titanic would sink, and it’s pretty easy to guess how a novel about the Romanovs during the last days of imperial Russia will go. Nevertheless, The Night is Far Gone is still worth reading. If anything, the inevitable ending makes it even more worth reading than if we were left guessing through the story. You could consider it an exercise in empathy, if you will, or an exercise in suspension of disbelief. I certainly used both throughout.
The novel doesn’t only focus on the Romanovs. In fact, most of it is told from the point of view of Gibbes, an English tutor who has grown close to the family. Through him, we see the Tsar and Tsarina, the Grand Duchesses, and the unlucky Tsarevitch. They are a family like any other, even if their trials are nothing like any ordinary family’s. The obvious love they have for one another and the grace with which they bear their trials only make their tale all the more poignant, and I could not help but feel for each of them, from Alexei as he did his best to live with his hemophilia to Alexandra as she encouraged Gibbes to have some sort of faith in God.
I said before the book could become an exercise in empathy or suspension of disbelief if one knows the history. I said “empathy” rather than “pity” because the inner strength of each Romanov makes me hesitate to pity them. Instead, I found myself placing myself in their shoes, trying to imagine how each indignity and each brief moment of hope would make me feel. This is where the suspension of disbelief came in. Every so often, I found myself believing that maybe things might turn out all right, that a family seemingly so cursed by history might somehow escape the fate I knew awaited them.
What more is there to say? The historical detail is exquisite, creating a remarkable sense of time and place, from the imperial family’s palace to their home in exile. More importantly, the characters don’t feel like historical figures. Tsar Nicholas and the rest of his family did exist, but within the pages of the book, they don’t loom large. They are people, just like all of us, with their strengths and failings the same as ours. This book breathes new life into them, and it is easily one of the best works of historical fiction I have read.