October 4, 2018
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October 17, 2018

Alice II

Photo by Ivan Obolensky

According to my grandfather, Serge Obolensky, Alice was an expert in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Toward the end of her life, he wrote that she had gotten herself deeply involved with mystics. She had always been inclined in that direction, and the lure of the ancient past was once again foremost in her mind. At this point in her life, Alice had divorced David Bouverie, her fourth husband, and had found herself utterly alone. What happened during this period my grandfather didn’t say, but he hinted that her death was unexpected, unnecessary, and well before her time.

Alice is buried in Rhinebeck. Next to her is the grave of Vassily, her chef, who languished after her death and died a year later.

Vassily has an interesting story. He was born Vassily Yourtchenko at the end of the 19th century on my family’s estate in Russia. He was a huge, ungainly farmhand who had a dream of becoming a chef. His zeal impressed my great-grandfather, who made it possible for him to become an apprentice. Over time, he developed into one of the great chefs of Russia. Vassily accompanied my grandfather through much of his life, even during the dangerous months after the 1917 Revolution.

My grandfather had married Princess Catherine, a daughter of the Czar, Alexander II. After the demobilization of the Russian Army in WWI, my grandfather and Catherine finally met up in Kiev after being separated by the war before they retreated south to Odessa. Accompanying her on the journey from St. Petersburg was Vassily, in need of a job. My grandfather told him that unfortunately he was way too expensive to retain, but Vassily insisted that not only could he make common fare spectacular, but at a cost much less than anyone else. After all they still had to eat. With that, there was nothing to be said but to hire him on the spot.

My grandfather eventually moved to London, divorced Catherine, and when he married Alice, Vassily continued on as their chef. He remained with my grandmother for the rest of her life.

Readers have asked what Alice was really like. I wish I could tell you more, but information is sketchy. I do know that she drove an ambulance during the London Blitz, refused to leave her residence at Hanover Lodge during that time, and was generally well liked. She had a very close relationship with the people who worked for her.

Not too far from Vassily’s grave are two others: that of Stanley Martin and Marjorie Lamond. Stanley Martin is the Stanley of Eye of the Moon, and Marjorie is Dagmar.


  1. Carolyn Magura says:

    Ah Ivan, I love your family history, and how they interact with your book. If you write a sequel, I’d LOVE to be an ARC reviewer. I did a review of your book : “Eye of the Moon is an outstanding, complex, intricate book. As a voracious reader, I’m always on the look-out for a book that immediately catches my interest and draws me into the book. Eye of the Moon is such a book. The activity takes place during about 4 days in a wonderful old estate owned by the Aunt Alice to Johnny – the best friend of Percy, the narrator of the book. The events are intricately woven through the multi-generational relationships of Aunt Alice’s family, AND Aunt Alice’s life. A whisper of the supernatural colors the story. The structure of the characters can be likened to the Upstairs/Downstairs because the senior servants are intrical to the story. Also, some key events occur during meals. The author also helps the atmosphere of the story by describing meal dishes, clothing, room designs, etc. Aunt Alice’s character comes alive through her letters, her research, and through the memories of those who knew her best. Please, please take the time to read this excellent book. Like me, I’ll bet that you too will be hoping that the author writes a sequel to this book.” I read it for free, and I’m going to buy it now. THANKS for writing this book.

    • Hi Carolyn, You are very welcome. Thank you for very much for your review. I love it when readers enjoy what I have written. I am writing the sequel, and when I get done I would be only too happy to send you an ARC. I expect it will be finished next year. My family history is both a blessing and a burden. A blessing because of all the people that make it up. I am thankful to have their attributes as part of my life. The burden is that there is a great deal to live up to. I hope one day to look back on all that I have written and know that it is worthy of that heritage. Thank you once again.

  2. SILVIA says:

    Vassily was a great character in your novel. Interesting to know Alice was the daughter of the Czar. Quite an amount of history.

    Thank you Ivan

    • Vassily has much of the loyalty that Stanley had in the novel. Alice managed to engender that affection in people. I am reading a book called A Gentleman from Moscow. It was recommended by a fellow guest on a radio show I did. The parallels between my grandfather and the main character in Amor Towles’s novel are amazing. Catherine, my grandfather’s first wife, was the daughter of the Tsar, Alexander II, but only a minor personage in the inheritance scheme at the time. As always many thanks for your comments!

  3. Carolyn Suzanne Magura says:

    Blessings for continued writing – full speed ahead! Also, I love the pictures that you take that your lovely wife posts on FB. We are friends and I also introduced her to another friend – and one of my favorite authors – Claudia Hall Christian.

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