It’s hard to imagine it’s two years to the day Exchange at the Border made its debut in the literary world. What took five years to conceive, mull over, collect jotted down notes, organize, write, rewrite, revise, edit, and publish, was finally a dream come true. I remember thinking at that moment being a published author at 55 was the culmination of a lifetime of preparation. Everything I had done up until this point, felt like training ground for what was in store for me as an aspiring writer and also for the literary scene. All the teachers I had along the way, who gave of themselves so selflessly, sharing their knowledge, demanding only the best in return, should know my success is also theirs.
All my experiences, from celebrations to disappointments, my travels around the world, my losses and grief, my daily inner journeys to hide from a sometimes hostile environment, everything was an instrument in the orchestra of my life. Now, I am finally hearing the music.
Exchange at the Border was born from an obsession to know all I could about the last royal family Romanov. Why my interest in them is an enigma. But for now, let it suffice that to quench my thirst for knowledge about Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, I stocked my night table with books, and books, and more books on the subject.
Thus began an exploration into one of the most talked about families in world history: Who was Tsarina Alexandra, and why was she so hated, so criticized by Tsar Nicholas’ family; her devotion to her husband and children, her shyness and withdrawal from the spotlight, her anguish about her son Alexei’s hemophilia, her fierce faith; her belief that faith and prayers would bring, accurately enough, the only healer capable to heal her son, a peasant from Siberia called Rasputin. And how can we explain her subsequent surrender to him in the form of a friendship that precipitated the decline and execution of the royal family?
Rasputin… such a mysterious character, hypnotic, peasant-turned-priest-turned-healer, and of Prince Alexei at that. A powerful man who could will himself sober at a moment’s notice, who could see what the human eye cannot, who could change the chemistry of the body to heal ailments doctors could not even begin to relieve; a man who defied his own death by surviving the large dose of poison he consumed inadvertently in his drink and pastries at a party made by his enemies especially for this purpose. A man who survived three shots in the back, and who after being pronounced dead was tied with rope, wrapped in a carpet and thrown in a frozen river. A man who surprised the world and baffled historians and scientists alike when he surfaced–dead but unwrapped– two days later for all the world to see.
Who was this man, and what did he want from the tsarina? Was his motive just to fulfill his mission as healer that brought him so close to the royal family? Or was it his insatiable sexual appetite fueled by her cool detachment despite her devoted obsession with him and his mesmerizing personality?
The rumors that infected the palace with lies about her romantic involvement with Rasputin changed the course of history. Despite the evidence–clear in her correspondence with the tsar while away with the troops–that her only love in life was her husband, we remember her as the queen who had an affair with Rasputin, and we remember him as an evil, sinister, manipulative, and perverted impostor. Why?
Through my research I discovered he did possess supernatural abilities that transcended human logic, defied the laws of nature, and produced results that left the most skeptic perplexed. But why isn’t it as well known the fact that he did heal the sick, many times without any monetary expectation, and he interceded with the tsarina on behalf of oppressed Jews to obtain exit visas from Russia? Why doesn’t history emphasize that? Soon he became so popular people lined up in the street outside his apartment in St. Petersburg. He saw everybody and helped everybody, did not ask for payment–except for sexual favors women were quite eager to fulfill–but accepted donations from wealthier gentlemen who appealed to his powers to solve different troublesome situations. Then he became so wealthy he could not handle the torrent of money and jewels that came his way, so he gifted it all to the poor frivolously, carelessly, generously.
So it occurred to me one day: what if he regrets this reputation? What if he would have a chance to come back and change the way things happened? And if he could, what would he do different? Could he be trusted?
Exchange at the Border attempts to answer these and other questions that plague the human being; questions about the battle between good and evil, about repentance, and also forgiveness.
What a journey it was indeed.