Friends of the Tsar

Miracles from Petrograd to the Outback

Non-Fiction - Motivational
187 Pages
Reviewed on 06/10/2019
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Author Biography

Born in Brisbane in 1949, I studied signwriting, pictorial, and screenprocessing before joining the army for six years in 1969. I pursued camping, fishing, and four wheel driving while working at my signwriting business in Sydney with my then wife to whom I had four children. I took an interest in the spiritual side and then decided to share my many miracles with the world through writing. All the miracles that I speak of in my book are so profound in that they are logic defying. One miracle in particular helped save my daughter's life. One night while watching chanel 7 news, I remembered a demonstration on what to do when someone was choking on something. The very next day my daughter was choking on a lolly. Her mother was frantic as she didn't know what to do, but I calmly applied the procedure on her and cleared the blockage with one quick thrust of the palm of my hand into her stomach.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite

Friends of the Tsar: Miracles from Petrograd to the Outback – a collection of short stories by Jon de Graaff - is built upon a great premise. Ancestral stories related by the Australian descendant of an old Russian family once close friends of the Tsar. The storyteller is said to be a man with personal experience regarding the events and places mentioned herein, and of intense historical interest to many. The stories themselves are told with great vividness, momentum, and presence, and they all are based on quite compelling plots. They are raw and down to earth, conveying a most accurate sense of family and of country life, as well as the sudden, dangerous turns that life can take. The powerful interest of the stories does tend to keep the reader enthralled.

In Friends of the Tsar by Jon de Graaff, a general theme emerges of rather miraculous escapes from impending danger and possible death. In the first story, Lovesick Vera Saved from Wolf Attack, Russia (1916), this theme arises as the main character, a young woman, heads to the barn to feed some goats, forgetting on the way to carry a required gun, and she is suddenly surprised by hungry wolves. Other stories revolve around the events of pre-revolutionary Russia, the Russian Revolution of 1917, events of WWI, and also anecdotes told by the family’s Australian friend, Blue. All of the stories in this collection center on the ancestral family’s tales, and together they provide a contemporary view of history in the making.

K.C. Finn

Friends of the Tsar: Miracles From Petrograd to the Outback penned by author Jon de Graaff is a work of non-fiction centering on historical events and the author’s own life and family’s lives. Written for adult reading audiences, the work does contain vivid descriptions of graphic violence, but does not contain any explicit language or sexual scenes. The plot is primarily focused on the incredible journey of two aristocratic families desperate to escape Russia during the revolution of 1917, and how they flee to Australia on a disguised steamer ship. What results is a tender tale of sticking together, amazing good fortune, and having faith during some of the darkest times of their lives.

Author Jon de Graaff has crafted a superb story which certainly delivers all of the heart-in-mouth action of a grand historical novel, but has the added wonder of being a work of non-fiction to boot. Left with nowhere to hide in Petrograd, the close narration of Blue and the families allows us to see the terrifying circumstances under which they lived and their reasons for fleeing. The timeline is well paced and constructed to give us all the proper historical details along the way, but it slows down and speeds up in true cinematic fashion to deliver these real life events in all of their sensational glory. The descriptions and use of atmospheric language made me feel as though I was right there with them. Overall, I would certainly recommend Friends of the Tsar to any reader seeking an immersive true life account of what it was like for families fleeing the 1917 Russian revolution.

Irene Valentine

Friends of the Tsar by Jon de Graaff is the story of Jon’s grandparents' escape from war-torn Russia In 1917. An unusual friendship had developed between Baron Alexander Zuchschwerdt (the author’s great-grandfather) and an Australian horse breeder from Queensland, known as Blue. The Baron had traveled to Australia two years earlier to buy some Waler horses from Blue. Prompted by the impact of the war, and its effect on the economy, the Baron called a family conference, to which Blue was invited. Blue endeared himself to the family when his prompt and skilled response saved their young daughter from choking on a candy. In the evenings Blue kept the nobles entertained with his stories of wild Australian adventures of crocodiles and kangaroos, dust storms, and wildfires. Living on their country estate, they faced snowstorms and bear and wolf attacks on their livestock. The Baron outlined the impending doom and the inevitability of the end of the Zuckschwerdt dynasty. He proposed being prepared for a sudden departure. Very early Sunday morning, 26 February 1917, the Baron and his family set off for the harbor in Petrograd, modern-day Leningrad, to sail to Australia. The city was in chaos with overturned police vehicles, thousands of angry demonstrators, and sporadic gunfire.

This is a fast-paced action-packed account of a significant chapter in Jon de Graaff's family’s history. I found it interesting that the life-skills learned from daily responsibilities on a large country estate in early 20th century Russia were as valuable in wartime as those survival skills developed in the Australian outback. I admired the way the family valued their relationships and resolved their issues. While fleeing for their safety, the Baron's family watched the unfolding of an unusual love story. Friends of the Tsar will appeal to readers of biographies, adventure, history, and travel books. Friends of the Tsar is also likely to inspire readers to consider the value of writing down their own family history to prevent it from being forgotten.

Mamta Madhavan

Friends of the Tsar: Miracles From Petrograd To The Outback (Two Love Stories) by Jon de Graaff is an engaging book with two love stories set against the backdrop of the Russian revolution and war, and which will end up in Australia. The memoir chronicles how two aristocratic families, the Zuckschwerdt and Orloff families, avoid being captured by the Petrograd official at the harbor. On another side, amid all the chaos and confusion, a love story was slowly taking place between Blue and a sixteen-year-old baroness. There is also a confrontation with the skipper of a German boat on the high seas. The Zuckschwerdts lived on an estate near Petrograd before the Russian revolution and they were close friends with the Tsar and his family. The Tsar's behavior caused the downfall of the country which made the baron, Alexander Zuckschwerdt, and the rest of them leave the country and move to Australia. How would life be for them once they move to Australia?

Friends of the Tsar covers spiritual awareness, a focus on the ever-present dangers in nature, and inspires those who have their own challenges in life. The funny anecdotes and dramatic situations are narrated through Blue, the Australian character, and are taken from Jon de Graaff's real-life experiences and stories. The spiritual journey taken by readers through this book gives them good messages of insight, compassion, and forgiveness that will help others heal from their pain and hurt. The book highlights the themes of miracles, humor, inspiration, spiritual awareness, hope, and remembering one's heritage, faith, and family. It speaks about how the author's grandparents, Vera and George, had difficulties adjusting to life in Australia. The author also throws light on the Russian revolution and the difficulties faced by the people during that time. Jon de Graaff's storytelling skills are excellent. There is an element of honesty and rawness that gives momentum to the narration and his descriptions of characters pull readers into the book.

Lesley Jones

Friends of the Tsar by Jon De Graaff is a collection of captivating stories told from the viewpoint of Australian Blue, a cattle farmer who is briefly visiting the Zuckschwerdt family in Petrograd, Russia. The main theme of each story highlights how humanity can overcome the worse possible situations and remain optimistic when facing danger or emotional turmoil. The majority of the stories relay the events just before and during the Russian Revolution of 1917 and, later on, the war between the British and Germans in World War II and how one family's involvement altered their view of themselves and others. Each ancestral tale revolves around the hardships people had to endure such as food shortages and the violence between the police and the people. The actions of brutality towards women and children slowly began to turn the mindset of the people against the dictatorship they were forced to live under.

The strength of Friends of the Tsar by Jon De Graaff is definitely in the dialogue. The author has an incredible talent for relaying the emotions and thought patterns of each character brilliantly. I loved the relationship dynamic between the characters and how they developed. The research into historical events in 20th century Russia and how these affected the people involved was incredible. Added to that was the amazing descriptive narrative that brought everything to life. The richness of Russian culture and traditions was extremely interesting and I thought Blue's explanation about life in Australia and his love for nature absolutely fascinating. There are some great moments of tension, especially the scene in Petrograd harbour where Blue was almost captured, but laugh out loud moments too, especially the scene with the German spy. The most heartbreaking scene to read was between Vera and her father as she confessed a horrific secret she had been keeping since childhood. I found Blue really lightened the mood with his infectious humor and games which brought the family together. The relationship between Blue and Monica was also extremely endearing.

Andrew Stacey

What a ripping yarn! A master of dialogue, de Graaf writes with the same courage and humour as he lives. Rich with the details of personal experience, Friends of the Tsar takes us on an unlikely andI entertaining journey back in time and culture.