The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

The Romanov Sisters by Helen RappaportThe Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport
Published by St. Martin's Press on June 3, 2014
Genres: Biography & Memoir, History
Pages: 381
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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They were the Princess Dianas of their day—perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.
Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.
The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Rappaort aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados


The Romanov Sisters really did surprise me. What struck me most is how vividly Helen Rappaport portrays the Romanovs: not only the four sisters, but their parents as well. In many ways this family was surprisingly normal, which also made them unconventional for their class. Alexandra completely broke protocol and followed her instincts, breastfeeding her own children, taking a hands-on approach in raising them, decorating her own household, cherishing as much family time (and privacy) as possible. The family was so loving and close, their days often so typical, at times I almost forgot I was reading about royalty.

Rappaport already wrote about The Last Days of the Romanovs, so The Romanov Sisters doesn’t focus on that. I think that the weakness of this book (that is, its attention to their unusually monotonous and fairly normal lives) is also its strength. It makes what happens to the the family feel all the more horrific, if that’s even possible. Here, they are no longer intangible, abstract figures in a history book; they are people.

This type of historical non-fiction can easily become dry and dull, but for me, those moments were few and far between. This title is incredibly well-researched, yet for the most part, its copious quotes, notes, and citations manage to stay out of the way of the narrative. Helen Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters is probably the most compelling book about the Romanov monarchy that I’ve read.