Friday, September 29, 2017

Review: THE ROMANOV SISTERS, by Helen Rappaport

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra. Published 2015 by St. Martin's Griffin. Nonfiction. History.

It might seem like a depressing topic for a book- the doomed lives of the four daughters of Russia's last tsar- and while it does get gloomy towards the end, for the most part I really enjoyed Helen Rappaport's biography of Anastasia, Maria, Tatiana and Olga Romanova, along with the stories of their parents and brother. Rappaport gives the reader an engaging and detailed portrait of a time, a place and seven lives that just weren't what they should have been.

Princess Alix of Hesse, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, married Nicholas of Russia as much for love as for dynastic reasons and together they had five children, all of whom they adored, even as they longed for that crucial son needed to continue the royal line. Rappaport talks about the mixture of joy and disappointment that greeted the birth of each of their four daughters and the subsequent mixture of trepidation and joy when their son Alexei was born with hemophilia. Rappaport portrays the tsar and tsarina as devoted parents and a loving couple and makes it clear that the survival of the line is Alexandra's primary goal. Thus her relief at Alexei's birth coupled with her growing and deepening anxiety around his delicate health. Rappaport also makes it clear that the Russian people never quite took to their German empress and that giving birth to daughter after daughter didn't help matters. Nor did her friendship with Rasputin, a controversial figure to say the least, and Alexandra's dependence on him was in no small way connected to her concern for Alexei, whom Rasputin seemed to be able to help. Meanwhile, she and other Russian royals tried to arrange marriages for the two older girls, and when that ship sailed, everyone did the best they could to protect them and each other. Sadly those efforts failed.

The book gives the reader a detailed and intimate look at the family and only really hints at the political strife swirling around them. We get to know each girl a little- Anastasia the tomboy and jokester, sweet Maria and lovelorn Olga and Tatiana. They love sailing; they love their parents, and they try to be good at the job of being grand duchesses. But they are also ordinary girls trying to make their way in a narrow version of the world. We see their constrained and isolated lives become more and more so as revolution brewed in Russia and some knowledge of the political history of the revolution would aide the reader in getting a deeper appreciation of why their lives changed from those of beloved princesses in a gilded palace to prisoners and finally to murder victims. That said, it is a remarkable and unforgettable story, sad to the end though it is.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Mystica said...

I found this book haunting.

Audra said...

I need to get this book. I had the opportunity to view the Romanov exhibit when it came to the US (some...sheesh, ten years ago?!) and it included the wall where the family was executed. It was just gutting -- I cried -- and have felt so differently about the family when I read about them as a result.