As part of our celebration of “all things Russia” for Valentine’s Day, be sure to read our post in Rose’s Ridge, “From Russia With Love,” and try our recipes of Russian dishes from Around The Table. Also learn some interesting facts and view beautiful pictures here.
The subject matter of Helen Rappaport’s new work, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (2014)*, is not a new topic. There are few families who are more well known or who have been the subject of more speculation, conspiracy, intrigue, and lore than the ill-fated Romanov family, the last imperial family of the tsarist autocracy in Russia.
There have been documentaries, films, books, and even children’s movies created around the hapless family and their untimely demise. The amount of interest in the topic is not surprising given that the narrative surrounding the Romanovs includes: an unstable mystic, a hemophilic heir, a royal family, a world war, a mass execution, and a potential secret survivor.
Despite all of the dramatic aspects of the Romanov family’s reign and demise, it is the daily mundane and the ordinary family interactions of the Romanov sisters that Helen Rappaport focuses on in The Romanov Sisters. Using excerpts from letters, diaries, and journals, Rappaport gives her readers a glimpse into the lives of Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia as grand duchesses in early twentieth-century Russia.
Rappaport’s work immediately captures how devoted the sisters were to one another and to their younger, sickly brother. The grand duchesses continuously scheme to hide Alexi’s life-threatening hemophilia from the Russian nation and protect him from harm.
Also apparent is the “girlies” (as they are called) and the rest of the Romanov family’s disdain for life in the tsarist court and for state affairs. Their father, Nicholas, would have likely been better suited as a country gentleman than a tsar, and their mother avoided all but the most necessary of social engagements. This rejection of aristocratic life left the girls very isolated, save their interactions with one another and the staff and soldiers that served them. The greatest excitement had by any of the children was when they traveled, except for the brief stint Olga and Tatiana had as military nurses during World War I.
The biggest critique of Rappaport’s work, however, is that the story can feel drawn out at times with the amount of detail she gives regarding the mundane day-to-day lives of the sisters. However, these in-depth descriptions of the Romanov sisters are also the greatest tragedy of the book as the reader fights the urge to warn and save the girls from their pre-ordained demise.
Ultimately, The Romanov Sisters reminds readers that despite country, century, or economic status, what matters most are the interactions each person has with their own loved ones. It also reminds readers that while no person may be able to control their ultimate destiny, they can control how they interact with and appreciate those in their daily lives.
*The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra was a New York Times Bestseller for 12 weeks!