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.