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Roberto Pazzi: Cercando l’imperatore (Searching for the Emperor)

Italian writers generally don’t write fantasies, at least not like this one, which may, in part, explain its success in Italy when it was published. Pazzi tells two stories side by side. The first concerns Czar Nicholas II (the last czar) and his family during their stay in Ekaterinburg, just prior to their final execution. Pazzi gives a general sympathetic portrait of the Czar and his family but he is less concerned with the historical events that led them to where they are now awaiting their death but rather with what they might have been thinking and feeling. While awaiting rescue by the Whites (who, as we will see, are not going to rescue them), they ponder various things, including the nature of power, their relationship with Rasputin and various personal events in their lives, including the hemophilia of their son Alexander.

This story is told in parallel with the story of the Preobrazhensky Regiment, under Prince Ypsilanti, who traverse the wilds of Siberia in the hope of getting to Tobolsk, where they believe (erroneously, as we know) that the Czar is. This bit is pure fantasy. The regiment is not the Preobrazhensky Regiment of old but made up of rough and ready men, many of whom do not speak Russian. Gradually, just as is happening to the Czar at the same time, the army slowly but surely loses control of the situation. Soldiers drift off. The prince and his officers are unsure of what to do. The telegraph is down and there seems no way to repair it and, therefore, no way to find out what is happening and whether the Czar is, indeed, at Tobolsk. Pazzi is not concerned with great movements, with the philosophy of the Revolution and the fall of kings. But he is concerned with the inner state of mind of people and this is where this story succeeds – the state of mind of the Czar, Kaigiàr, the Tatar soldier who leads a group who walks off from the Regiment, the soldier shocked at seeing a large mirror, these are the stuff of Pazzi’s story.

Publishing history

First published in Italian 1985 by Marietti
First English translation 1988 by Knopf
Translated by M. J. Fitzgerald