This dramatic and poignant chronicle of four generations of a Russian family begins in the dazzling court of Tsar Alexander III, traces the Ignatieff family's rise to power and influence in the imperial regime of Tsar Nicholas II, and sweeps us into an avalanche of revolution, civil war, and exile. Drawing on family diaries, photographs in an old family album, and stories passed down from father to son, Michael Ignatieff movingly comes to terms with the meaning of his family's memories and history in an extraordinary time. Winner of the Governor General's Literary Award and the Heineman Prize.
As minister of education, Count Paul Ignatieff, the author's grandfather, resigned out of disgust from Czar Nicholas II's cabinet. A liberal, he tried to preserve statesmanlike traditions, but an increasingly reactionary regime stifled him. With the 1917 revolution he went into exile. While his wife Natasha cared for their five sons in England, then in Canada, the count immersed himself in White Russian emigre politics in Paris. The couple's reunion is one of the touching moments in this family history. The author, an expatriate Canadian living in London, combed family memoirs and made two trips to the Soviet Union to track down material on four generations of his aristocratic ancestors. He is not proud of his great-grandfather Nikolai, an imperial ambassador who persecuted Jews and plotted against the Ottoman Empire, yet he hides nothing. His painfully honest search for roots leads him to the realization, "You make yourself with your own hands, here and now.''