“The House of Special Purpose” by John Boyne / Monday, May 13, 2013 / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne

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.

New York Times bestselling Irish author John Boyne’s new book “The House of Special Purpose” is one of those alternative history books where I already know the ending, I know where the author is going to go with it, but the storytelling is so good that I want to stay with him through each word to see how he gets there.  I could not stop reading and I was not disappointed.

“The House of Special Purpose” concerns itself with Georgy and Zoya and is told through the point-of-view of Georgy, an 82 year-old-man looking back on his life to the central point of the final days of czarist Russia and the reign of the Romanovs.  Georgy starts his life as a farmer, becomes a servant and bodyguard in the house of Tsarevich Alexei, son of Tsar Nicholas II, and – after the rise of Marx, Stalin, and Lenin – flees to Paris and then to post-war London.  Why he flees is the subject of the book.

“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.

The main characters of Georgy and Zoya stay under constant threat of discovery for something that they did.  Throughout the story, the reader will keep asking, “Why?”  This is the spine.  Within the pages are secrets that refuse to die highlighted in the struggle for power and self-preservation, which takes form in multiple ways.  Particularly real and touching is the portrayal of Zoya and her desire to come to the end of her life.  Narrator Georgy is full of flaws and selfishness.  The reader will understand his humanity, but at times, his choices are hard to swallow.  We like him as we like family.  He has a good heart, but sometimes his decisions and actions are less than admirable.  People write about authors creating flawed characters; well, here you go:  John Boyne has the nerve to actually do it, flawed Georgy certainly is.

I loved the storytelling device of starting at both extremes of Georgy’s life (1981 and 1899, if my calculations are correct) and alternatively working forwards and backwards through the epic chapters until the two timelines meet.  Following this structure, we see the parallel stories of Georgy’s life as a young man compared against the wisdom and frailties of old age.

On a side note, I’ve found a new publisher in Other Press.  I was blown away by, not only “The House of Special Purpose,” but the titles and the quality of their other works.  I encourage you to check out their house at www.otherpress.com.

– Clay Stafford is an author / filmmaker and founder of Killer Nashville. Stafford’s latest projects are the documentary “One of the Miracles” and the music CD “XO”.

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Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!