By: Helen Rappaport
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: June 2014
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: June 5, 2014
Most people learn about the Russian Revolution of 1917 in a high school history class. They read about the Tsar, his weaknesses, his wife’s obsession with Rasputin, and how it all came crashing down when they were executed in July of 1918, along with their son and four daughters. The children, particularly the daughters, are typically treated as a footnote, meshed together as one unit, and frequently getting no more than a sentence or two in various history books. Thanks to Helen Rappaport however, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia Romanov are finally given the coverage they deserve as their lives come to life within the pages of The Romanov Sisters.
Rappaport begins her book with a look into Tsaritsa Alexandra before she became “Empress of all the Russias.” As Princess Alix of Hesse, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, she led a privileged life. However, after the death of her mother, brother and little sister, young Alix retreated into the safety of family and valued it above all else. In adulthood, this desire to retreat behind closed doors with her family would come back again and again for Alix, and lead the Russian people to misjudge her and her actions.
After falling in love with, and marrying, Nicholas Romanov, Alix [now Alexandra], found herself thrown into a culture, and tradition, she didn’t understand. What she did know was family, and that is where she threw herself, heart and soul. Bearing four daughters, and then finally, to the relief of all, a son, Alexandra relished the role of mother. Her preference, however, to stay behind palace doors with her children, combined with health issues that kept her from traveling or, indeed, being seen out of the palace, led to much negative speculation on the part of the Russian people.
While The Romanov Sisters provides much information on Alexandra, Nicholas, and their son Alexey, it provides an astounding amount of detail into the personal lives of Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. Exhaustively researched, the author uses letters, diary entries, official documents, and photos, to bring these four girls to life. Rappaport tells a mesmerizing story, as she meticulous introduces the reader to these four charming girls, with their likes, dislikes, teenage crushes, schooling, volunteerism during the War, and the various activities that kept them busy. Many events/people surrounding the Tsar and his family are seen through the eyes of his four daughters. For example, Alexandra's embracing of the infamous Rasputin is carefully examined. While not wise, her devotion to this faith healer is certainly more understandable in the context of the story Rappaport tells, particularly in relation to the Tsaritsa's hemophiliac son. This is where most history books stop, but Rappaport continues and dives into how the daughters felt about their mother’s advisor, his powers, and his death, which are clearly seen through the letters they left.
While all readers will know how this tale ends before reading the first page, The Romanov Sisters is not about that fateful day at the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. It is about the vivacious young ladies who grew up as the daughters of Tsar Nicholas. With a degree in Russian Studies, I have read a lot of books about the Romanovs and the last days of Imperial Russia. I have not, however, read a book that so grabbed me and kept me reading late into the night. Poignant, insightful, well written, The Romanov Sisters should be required reading for anybody studying the history of Russia.
Quill says: This book brings to life the Romanov sisters, and the rest of their family, like no other I’ve read. If you’re interested in Russian history, do NOT miss this book!