The reader speaks well, paying careful attention to pronunciation, but often, with so many Russian names rolling off her tongue, I was unable to picture or fathom any of them, let alone try and remember them. Although she spoke clearly, she didn’t vary much in tone or pitch. The voice was resonant, but very soft and kind of melancholy. I believe I would have been better off with the print book, rather than the audio.
The author’s excellent research is evident with the information presented on every page. It was very detailed and the lives of the Romanov daughters do come alive for the reader. However, sometimes it was repetitive, for how many times can you hear about the illness of a particular character or the balls someone attended without feeling the story should move on a bit faster. I often lost track of the children’s ages and of how much time had passed, and in the end, thought they had been in prison for years when only one year had gone by.
Actually, the book only covers a little over two decades in the lives of the Tsar and Tsarina, Nicholas II and Alexandra who was of British nobility and converted to the Russian Orthodox religion to marry. The royal couple shared a deep love for each other. The children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei, the legitimate heir, who is covered in large part only with reference to his genetic illness, Hemophilia, were largely kept out of the public eye, to the dismay of their subjects who thought they should be more privy to information about them and wanted them placed on pedestals to view as they grew. Alexie’s health was often a concern since he was the legitimate heir to the throne. Rasputin was called in often, to bring him back to health, and magically, he often did have that effect on him and others.
For much of the Romanov reign, they feared assassination attempts. Neither the Tsar or the Tsarina particularly liked the position they were in and therefore, seemed unfit for to handle the task of ruling the country. He didn’t seem to want or enjoy governing, and she preferred solitude to affairs of state. She was often sick, preventing her appearances, and the children were completely sheltered and protected at all times, as well. They all seemed to be naïve about what behavior was expected of them, both in public and private, and they did not perform their duties in the way their subjects considered proper or acceptable for royalty. Rather they seemed more ordinary. They were not opposed to doing things for themselves or to do physical labor. When the war broke out, Nicholas joined the fight and the children and their mother nursed the victims. Also, although they lived well, they did not live in the lavish style of most reigning nobility. Still they were pampered with 100’s of servants and guards protecting them when they moved about. Perhaps discontent for the ruler just goes with the job.
From this author’s presentation, I found the ultimate treatment of the family to be cruel and brutal. The revolutionaries who overthrew their dynasty were just like all other revolutionaries. They were concerned with protecting their own positions and behaved barbarically, wantonly committing murder. The Romanovs were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Bolsheviks came to power. They seemed completely unprepared for the way they would be treated, with unrealistic expectations and seemed utterly surprised when they were taken prisoner and treated like commoners. Still, through it all, they maintained, for the most part, an optimistic attitude, always remaining hopeful that they would have their freedom back one day. They all adapted well, or tried to, no matter what the hardship, in spite of illness, in spite of the fact that they began to show the effects of their ill treatment, as time passed.
The beautiful letters that were written and the experiences documented in diaries and journals laid bare their lives for the reader who cannot help but sympathize with their plight. They were portrayed as almost guileless, and the children surely were. They had no dominion over themselves and were punished simply because of their bloodline, as were those closely associated with them.
The revolutionaries, perhaps, ushered in an era of even greater oppression for the people of Russia, which continues somewhat today. The Socialists, the Bolsheviks, the Communists, Lenin and Stalin all eventually feared for their own futures as the Tsar and Tsarina had lived in fear of theirs. As Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
This book went on super sale when Rappaport's new book about the Romanov daughters came out. Zam! I love cheap Kindle books.
I read the biography of the sisters first and was disappointed in how it petered out at the end--the author said in her preface that she had already written a book about the Ekaterinburg days and didn't want to go there again.
So I read the book about Ekaterinburg. It's got some interesting tidbits about the sisters that weren't included in their biography--namely the story about Maria getting involved with one of their jailers, which resulted in a rift in the family and a clampdown on their privileges. As I said in my review of The Romanov Sisters, I can't understand how that anecdote got left out of the biography (especially when Rappaport had nearly nothing to say about Maria otherwise).
The structure of the book is fairly clever--Rappaport starts each chapter with a description of the Romanovs in captivity and then jumps into other details: biographical information about everyone in the family, details about how the Bolsheviks were planning the Romanovs' deaths, political maneuverings in Russia and abroad. Some of these details are more interesting than others so parts of the book drag, but overall it's a vast improvement over the utter tedium of the last third of The Romanov Sisters.
One final nitpick: there are no citations here. Rappaport addresses this in her author's note, justifying it as a way to keep the narrative flowing. I really dislike it when nonfiction books present a bunch of subjective statements without attributing them to anyone, so not knowing which story came from which source really bothered me.
Some combination of this and The Romanov Sisters would create a pretty interesting read. By themselves the books fall a bit flat.
I've read several books about the Romanovs over the years. This one is purportedly a biography of OTMA (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia), daughters of the last tsar of Russia, but it ended up dealing more with the family as a whole. The narrative is straightforward and there are copious quotes from letters and diaries, but the sisters never felt fully fleshed out. It seemed as though the author was pulling her punches at times, and sometimes just failing to connect the dots. For example, she presents quotes from people who saw Anastasia as the family clown, delightfully charming, and those from others who thought she was obnoxious and ill behaved. There's very little connective tissue to tie the quotes together and bring Anastasia's personality to life.
In the prologue, the author says she's already written a book about the Romanovs' deaths in Siberia and doesn't want to cover that ground again, so the execution is glossed over. I think that's understandable, but it seemed like she was really disinterested in everything the family went through once they were in exile. I've read other books that talked about Maria being considered boy crazy by the other grand duchesses and getting into trouble with her family for flirting with the guards when they were in Siberia. There's even a story that one of the guards brought her a birthday cake and Maria was later caught with him in a "compromising position." There is no word of this in the book--does the author have reason to believe it didn't happen? Why wouldn't you mention that, if that were the case? I think the best biographies put things into context for the reader. Given that the girls were living through turbulent times and factions on every side were prone to spreading rumors to support their own agendas, I think she does the reader a disservice by not presenting some of what has been said over the years and dismantling the falsehoods. Instead the last third of the book consists of letter after letter in which the grand duchesses write to their friends about how bored they are. Unfortunately, it's also quite boring to read.
I would recommend this as a good introduction to the Romanov family, but there's not much here to interest anyone who's familiar with their story. And readers who are hoping to have the grand duchesses come alive on the page will likely be disappointed.