Russia's Peter the Great, a cruel visionary imbued equally with a fascination for progress and absolute power
About the author
Henri Troyat, who has died at the age of 95, was one of the most prolific and popular French writers of the 20th century. The author of short psychological novels, long, multi-volume historical frescos, short stories, plays, reportages and biographies, he had a literary career that spanned 70 years, and was particularly distinctive for its unique blend of French and Russian cultures.
Troyat was born Lev Aslanovich Tarassov in Moscow, the son of a wealthy Armenian draper who had made a fortune through investment in railways and banking. He was brought up in a privileged environment, with a coachman, a chauffeur and, most significantly, a Swiss governess who taught him French. All this came to an end when the Russian revolution broke out in 1917. Initially, the family retreated to their estate in the Caucasus to await the collapse of Bolshevik rule; but by 1920 it was clear that the counter-revolution was failing and that they would have to leave their homeland. They managed to catch the last émigré boat from the Crimea to Constantinople, from where they joined the exiled Russian community in Paris, settling in the prosperous suburb of Neuilly, where Troyat attended the Lycée Pasteur. Like many Russian exiles, however, the family found life in the west difficult and drifted slowly into debt, culminating with the arrival of the bailiffs and an enforced move to the Place de la Nation.