On July 16, 97 years ago, the family of the last Czar of Russia was awakened from their sleep and executed. In her exquisitely researched biography, renowned writer and historian Helen Rappaport depicts the personal lives of the four Romanov sisters. Last year I had the privilege of reading and reviewing their fascinating story–now out in paperback, which I’m delighted to offer one of my readers. You’ll find your chance to win, below. What follows here is my original review:
About this book: (from the publisher) They were the Princess Dianas of their day—perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.
Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.
The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Helen Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados.
About the author: Helen Rappaport studied Russian at Leeds University and is a specialist in Imperial Russian history and the reign of Queen Victoria. She lives in Dorset, England and can be found online at HelenRappaport.com and facebook.com/helenrappaportwriter.
Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Oh my yes. Gorgeous. (Family photos included inside are also a plus.)
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG. Appropriate for all audiences.
You’ll want to buy this book if … you’re a student of humankind. Of special interest, naturally, to those interested in Russian history and in the Romanov family in particular.
Why did I read this book? For St. Martin’s Press for review.
Would I read another by this author? Absolutely. Am especially keen to read this volume’s predecessor, The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg.
My take: The double entendre of the subtitle subtly captures the essence of this lush biography: the lives of these four girls were lost both literally and figuratively. It is the loss in the literal sense that we are all most familiar with, but after reading this book, for me the greater tragedy is the figurative loss. By which I mean that because of several factors of their circumstances–including the introversion of their beloved mother and the terminal illness of their little brother, heir to the Russian throne–the true nature of these sisters’ lives and personalities were so hidden from public view. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if their fates might have been altered if the charm and beauty of their characters had been fully revealed and allowed to flourish in the light.
But here, I’m getting ahead of myself–though this is part of the wonder of this richly researched biography. It not only answers many of the questions you may have about this infamous family but fuels your imagination as well. This is a thick tome–492 pages in all, including copious, meticulous end notes and index–making it perhaps slightly better suited for the serious student of the Romanovs than the dilettante.
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The depth and breadth of Rappaport’s research is breathtaking; on her website, she is described as “writer, historian, Russianist”–in that order, which fits perfectly. Her vocabulary is a notch above, intended for the educated reader who wishes to become even more so.
In reading this telling of the Romanovs’ story, the biggest surprise for me was realizing the depth of their faith and family devotion. In fact, the author encapsulates this by quoting 1 Corinthians 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Of equal interest were her conclusions about the notorious Rasputin and his connection to the revolution–and ultimately to this family’s awful and untimely demise.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: Before seeing their names listed here, would you have been able to name all four of the Romanov sisters?
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