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review 2015-02-24 04:28
A Very Interesting View of the Romanov's Reign
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra - Helen Rappaport

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."

 

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review 2014-06-22 21:36
All about The Romanov Sisters...and parents and brother.
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra - Helen Rappaport

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. 

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review 2014-06-04 00:00
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra - Helen Rappaport Even during the lifetime of the four beautiful Romanov sisters, their mysterious personal lives lead to much speculation and idolization. This book uses many diaries, letters, and other first person accounts to bring the sisters to life. The book starts when their mother journeys to Russia, a lonely bride in a strange land. It then follows the rest of the sisters’ lives, through the beginning of the first world war and their eventual murder by Bolshevik soldiers.

I was surprised that knowing the end of this story didn’t bother me. On the contrary, the constant reminder that the sisters’ sadly sheltered lives ended in such a tragic fashion gave this book a poignancy which I think was its’ best feature. The many first-person accounts did a great job bringing the sisters’ individual personalities to life. It was hard to not feel desperately sad for the whole family as you got to know them and saw times where their deaths might have been avoided had things gone a little differently. The most interesting parts of the story, for me, were those which highlighted the times in which the sisters lived. Both connections to large events (the outbreak of WWI, the reign of George VI of The King’s Speech) and to smaller events (Russia’s first women doctors and first motion pictures), made for a fascinating backdrop.

The details of the lives of the sisters themselves were less interesting. They led very sheltered lives, so often large chunks of the book passed with no significant changes in their lives. The constrained lives they lived in prison were boring, but no more so than their early lives sheltered by their mother. The only briefly exciting part of their story was when they served with great dedication as nurses after the outbreak of WWI. I’ve read several positive reviews of this book (including this one from Julz Reads), but it just wasn’t my favorite. Honestly, I spent much of the story waiting to reach the end, which is never a good way to feel about a book! However, I think it’s fair to say that this book has really pleased many fans with greater prior interest in the Romanovs, so don’t let my negative review dissuade you too much on this one.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.
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text 2014-06-01 17:30
Read in May
The Queen Of The Tearling - Erika Johansen
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra - Helen Rappaport
Twenty Years After - Alexandre Dumas,Auguste Maquet,David Coward
Die letzte Instanz - Elisabeth Herrmann
Die 7. Stunde - Elisabeth Herrmann
Kommt Zeit kommt Mord - Peter Wehle

(I do like these 'read in' posts...but I'll bet I'll forget making them).

 

Not a terribly exiting month reading-wise. Queen of Tearling was horrible, as all followers of this blog will know. I loved Twenty Years After but then I might be biased because I really, really love the Musketeers :P

Kommt Zeit, Kommt Mord was pretty stupid and the Elisabet Herrmanns as well as the book on the Romanov-sisters somewhat...meh. Which is a shame as I loved Elisabeth Herrman's first novel (and still love the main character) and the Romanov-book had potential.

 

Next on the list (probably) finishing The Queen's Exiles and From Hell.

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review 2014-05-16 09:35
Review: Four Sisters
Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses - Helen Rappaport

I actually wish I could give this book a higher rating because it is very well researched and also well-written. Non-fiction can often appear a bit dry but the author manages to interweave facts, quotes from diaries and letters, and her own take on some events in a way that it's rarely boring.

However: I expected a book about the four Romanov-sisters and I don't really feel I got that. The first few chapters are mostly dedicated to the parents, especially Alexandra, the mother. I understand that you can't write about the sisters without mentioning the parents. After all they lived with them to the very end and their relationship to them is an important part of their life but I don't think it would have to be quite as in-depth.
Then, for more than half the book, the focus seemed to be mostly on Tatiana and Olga, the two older sisters. Anastasia and Maria stayed somewhat colourless. In the final part of the book that did not change too much. Anastasia did get some more depth (still not a lot) but I never felt that I learned very much about Maria.

Perhaps you could argue that Maria seemed to be a quieter person in general and combined with her early death that makes it hard to write much about her so perhaps I'm simply complaining on a very high level.

The decision not to write much about the final days of the Romanovs was also, well, a bit odd. In the introduction the author explained that she did that because she already wrote a book about that which is certainly great but perhaps I would have liked to know more about this without having to buy another book.

 

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for a honest review.

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