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The House of Special Purpose Paperback – April 2, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Russophiles should immediately comprehend the title of Boyne’s suspenseful and touching novel. In 1981, as his adored wife, Zoya, lies dying, Georgy Jachmenev, an elderly Londoner, reflects on their lengthy marriage and the secret tragedies they endured. A parallel plotline opens in early twentieth-century Russia as young Georgy, a muzhik (peasant) from a backwater village, saves the life of the czar’s cousin and is brought to St. Petersburg, where he becomes protector to the frail czarevich and finds romance with Grand Duchess Anastasia. The two narratives dovetail, as the latter progresses forward in time and the former marches steadily backward. The book’s central mystery is dated now, which may limit readers’ appreciation, but it is ingeniously constructed and gripping nonetheless. While no prior historical knowledge is required, the more familiar readers are with the Romanovs, the more clues (and false leads) they will encounter as they proceed. Boyne takes some factual liberties, particularly in the earlier-set segments, but he also skillfully evokes the wrenching pain of loss and exile while presenting a tribute to enduring love. st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } --Sarah Johnson


“John Boyne’s novel is a tour de force, at once epic and intimate, and above all a marvelous read.” —John Banville, author of Ancient Light and The Sea, winner of the Booker Prize

"Narrator Georgy Daniilovich Jachmenev reviews his long life, from being household of Czar Nicholas II to his post-retirement years in London...Boyne re-creates both Georgy’s personal life and the life of pre-Revolutionary Russia with astonishing density and power." —Kirkus (starred review)

"[Boyne] skillfully evokes the wrenching pain of loss and exile while presenting a tribute to enduring love." —Booklist

“Amazingly researched and vividly written.” —Foreword

“In this richly textured, audaciously imagined alternate history John Boyne chronicles a long and complex marriage forged out of the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Georgy and Zoya are a memorable pair of lovers, and as this ingeniously structured narrative takes us deeper and deeper into their shared past, our understanding of their unremarkable present is increasingly colored by the extraordinary secrets, regrets and guilt they carry within them.” —Paul Russell, author of The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov

"Readers who enjoy historical fiction will find much to like in Boyne’s creative retelling of this familiar story, as he brings it to life through the eyes of an ordinary young man caught up in extraordinary events beyond his control—events that will change the world forever." —Chapter 16

"Beautifully written, I found it difficult to put the book down. Although the twist that Boyne slowly gives away is easy to figure out, it doesn’t diminish the tale. I found myself totally absorbed by his descriptions of what it was like growing up in Tsarist Russia and during the Bolshevik Revolution. Additionally, his description of what it was like living in London during World War II was hard to stop reading and kept me up very late reading for more than one night."—Bosguy

Irish writer John Boyne’s “The House of Special Purpose” is a thrilling historical novel rooted in the Russian revolution and the end of Romanov czars."—StarTribune

If you are looking for a page-turning mixture of suspense and betrayal within a well-executed part love story, part historical epic, and part-tragedy, then “The House of Special Purpose” is a book you must not miss"—Killer Nashville

"The House of Special Purpose
is immediately riveting, mysterious, and tense with suspense. It is filled with heartlessness and insensitivity, but – at the same time – great love; it has pain, but incredible joy. The humanity of it will leave you crying at the end of the very first chapter."—Killer Nashville

If we were inclined to stalk an author in order to read even his grocery list, Boyne would probably be that author."—A Reader's Respite

... Boyne could write about any subject and his lyrical phrasing and subtle wit would make it a lovely experience. And so it is with The House of Special Purpose. His pacing is impeccable and every word (except the word Anastasia, that is) is to be savored and enjoyed."—A Reader's Respite

Part historical fiction, part romance and part tragedy, this book is a thrilling look at one of Russia’s most tumultuous eras." —Cecil Daily

"Perfect for historians who love a good novel...Give this book as a gift—and borrow it back." —Aiken Standard

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590515986
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590515983
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #584,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Boyne was born in Ireland in 1971 and is the author of seven novels for adults and three for children. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas won two Irish Book Awards, was shortlisted for the British Book Award, reached no.1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and was made into an award-winning Miramax feature film. His novels are published in over 45 languages. He lives in Dublin.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ionia Martin TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
The historical aspect of this book was fabulous. The author clearly did a lot of research into the time period the book is set in and the overall subject matter of the story. Unfortunately, it was also this that I felt made this book fail a bit in some areas.

While the history included in this novel was wonderful, it seemed like the author became lost in it, leaving the rest of the tale floundering a bit. I love this author and the previous books have all been amazing, but this one didn't have the fire I had hoped it would have, or at least for me it didn't. While I greatly enjoyed this for the most part, there were places where I felt my mind wander and wished the pace would pick up and get to another interesting part.

The romance was detailed, but in some ways seemed so detailed and filled with description of how the characters felt that it overwhelmed the ability for me to care what happened between them. I was hoping for a little more show and a little less tell.There were a few surprises in the book, but I felt too much of it was described beforehand and I wasn't left with very much for my imagination to do.

Gregory, at least as a narrator, acted and appeared rather juvenile and immature. He wasn't they type of sympathetic character I would have imagined in the leading role of a book like this. I couldn't exactly get a handle on his conflicting traits and it made it difficult for me to feel close to him.

I did think the author did a supreme job of handling a story that one knows going in will have a somewhat dark and disturbing result, without making the entire book seem dreary. I didn't feel like I was rehashing something that had been written before, and the novel is very original.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, you may really like or even love this book. It was good, just not what I had personally expected.

This review is based on a digital ARC from the publisher.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By keetmom on October 17, 2011
Format: Paperback
The last days of the Tsar and what happened in "the house of special purpose" in Ekaterinburg are something every schoolboy ought to know. So there should be few surprises here. But Boyne is a clever storyteller. This time he has the narrator giving two accounts of his life - one that runs forwards and the other backwards in time until they connect at the book's dramatic dénouement. A little long winded to start, the book picks up pace and by the end is hard to put down as the reader races through to confirm the outcome he has been hinting at all along. There is just enough history to set the scene for a rather "light" but nonetheless interesting account of the early days of the Russian Revolution. This is really a romantic novel so the characters and events are somewhat thinly sketched and are there to play the parts Boyne has cast for them. This all makes for a mechanical structure to the book, but as with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Boyne helps his reader see something new in his retelling of another 20th century tragedy. It's fictional of course so readers shouldn't stress over the odd slip or improbability as it is also a good read.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Kristine Cook on October 23, 2012
Format: Paperback
This may be one of the best constructed books I've had the fortune of reading. As someone who usually shies away from historical fiction due to its burdensome focus on the setting, I must say Boyne was a very pleasant recommendation.

The story opens with 80-year-old Georgy facing the harsh reality that his beloved Zoya is succumbing to cancer. His thoughts then turn to the past, when he was a mere teenager who went from being a poor farmer to bodyguard to the Tsarevich Alexei Romanov. In a structure that fascinated me, the narrative was told from both the beginning and the end, as alternating chapters went forward from 1915 and backward from 1981.

I love character-driven novels (which I feel like a lot of the historical fiction I've read lacks in favor of being swept up in the grandeur of the time period/setting), and this one didn't disappoint. Boyne did a great job writing a main character much older than him as well as the tender naivety of teenagers. He brought the Romanovs to life, giving them believable personalities that made the demise you knew was coming even more heart breaking. Though I predicted the twist rather early, I still really enjoyed seeing it played out. The last chapter was by far my favorite, particularly the last page. So beautiful!

There were a few aspects that some readers may want to be aware of. A couple of sexual scenes pop up, though they are tastefully handled and actually relevant to the plot. No more than a handful of poignantly placed swear words arise. The pacing was neither fast nor slow once you're past the first 50 or so pages that do drag a little. I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction, Russian history, the Romanovs (assuming you're willing to overlook the poetic license with real history), and character-driven novels.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Gayla M. Collins VINE VOICE on May 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Through the memories of 82 year old Georgy Jacmenev we travel back to his early days in Russian, starving with a family of six all in one room until an event occurs that lands him a job with the Russian Tsar Nicolas protecting his 11 year old heir to the throne. Russia was in the throws of exhausting war-fare while battling uprising by their own starving people.

We meet Georgy and his wife Zoya, both refugees from Russia to England via Paris. The tale is shared with us via flashbacks. I am loathe to say what any of them were as each shocked me and I want the next reader to have the same experience. I read the first 313 pages in one day and finished it the next day. Such a historically interesting story one can't help but be glued to the pages. The 1/2 star off is that I thought the last nearly 200 pages a little lagging except for the end when Boyne's twines all his tales together for a satisfying outcome.

The prose is prolific, the story sentimental at moments and ghastly at others. The author, John Boyne, also has a shrewd sense of humor in that one day Georgy is so distracted he can't read "Munity on the Bounty."(this is one of the Boyne's famous books)

Here is an example of the literary genius; Georgy is going to meet his daughter's first l love one evening and this is his musing that deeply touched me for how well it expresses emotion and truth..........

"I rather dreaded meeting him. It wasn't just that it forced me to acknowledge the fact that my daughter was approaching adulthood; there was also the matter of facing up to my own increasing age.
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