Comprehensive and well documented, this joint biography of the last Tsar’s four daughters stops just short of their violent deaths at the hands of revolutionaries, but it’s a poignant and haunting story from start to finish. Lovely, intelligent, and good humored, sisters Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia were seen as a unit, even referring to themselves as OTMA, but they come alive as individuals in the chapters of this book, with (roughly speaking) Olga the most emotional, Tatiana the most responsible, Maria the best natured, and Anastasia the most spirited. Their parents Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra come across as devoted and doting, fatalistically pious in their beliefs, but not temperamentally suited for public life, and the Tsarevich Alexei, their lively younger brother, romps through the pages as much as his hemophilia allows.
Using sources that include their diaries and letters, the four sisters often get to speak for themselves. Their lives were sheltered, isolated, and privileged, but full of contradictions. They had lots of family love and idyllic summer excursions, but their mother was often incapacitated by illness, and Alexey was regularly bedridden and in great pain. The four were expected to marry well, especially Olga as the eldest, but they were kept from society so their crushes were on soldiers that guarded them, not European royals or members of their own class. They played silly child-like games far into adolescence, but during WWI spent their days tending to badly injured and disfigured soldiers, especially Tatiana who worked as a surgery nurse.
Too thorough and detailed to read like a novel, The Romanov Sisters is still moving and a hard book to put down, capturing some fascinating bits of history and rescuing Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia from history’s shadows. I read an advanced review copy of this book provided by the publisher. The opinions are mine.