Archive for : August, 2016

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The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport – A Review

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The story of the Romanovs is one that continues to interest scholars, historians and the general public even today. The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport is probably one of the best novels on the four Russian Grand Duchesses that has ever been written. It focuses solely on Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov and talks about their lives before their tragic demise in 1918, instead of focusing simply on the tragedy as so many historians have done before.

Rappaport immediately impresses upon the reader the importance of these four Russian Grand Duchesses: they were revered throughout Russia for their looks, their fashion and for their position of privilege. We are given a sense of just how much they were loved by a portion of the public, not just how much the royal family was hated by some. Public opinion of these four sisters has since been clouded because of the tellings and re-tellings of what happened in the basement in Ekaterinburg where they met their fates. Rappaport aims to recreate a more complete picture of the four girls and rediscover who they really were.

The author ingeniously uses primary sources such as letters and diary entries written by the girls in order to gain a real insight into their world, their characters and their relationships. Clearly, their writing shows them to be intelligent and perceptive individuals who could only watch the problems that their family faced – from both internal and external sources – and never help or improve the situation. From their writing you get a real sense of the helplessness they must have felt and the reader is encouraged to start feeling as though they really don’t know the whole history surrounding the tragedy of the Romanov family.

Knowing a little of the history of Russia can really aid your reading of the book, since a lot of information is assumed, so sometimes facts aren’t spelled out for the reader. If you really want to get the most out of this read, make sure you know who the Romanovs were, what happened to them and why before you attempt this book, since details about the bigger picture are often left out in preference to details about the girls’ lives, a fact that makes the book stronger in some ways, but weaker in others. Overall, though, it does give you a more powerful image and idea of the sorts of lives that the four girls had, even if it does not explicitly describe the exact historical setting in which their lives were cut short.

This is a fresh new look and an interesting perspective on a much-told and well known story about the demise of the Russian royal family. It emphasizes the poignancy of what happened to the four Grand Duchesses without trying to paint them as completely innocent or free from blame. It is the perfect balance of cold, historical facts and real, feeling people from history.

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The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – A Review

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Knowing more about Marina Keegan only makes her book, The Opposite of Loneliness, a more poignant and emotional read. She graduated from Yale in May 2012 and had a bright future ahead of her as a writer. A play of hers was due to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and, straight after graduation, she had a very coveted job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Then, suddenly and sadly, she died in a car crash, just five days after her graduation. She was just 22 years old.

The Opposite of Loneliness is not a novel. It is, instead, a collection of essays and short stories composed and written by Marina Keegan. It was put together by friends and family shortly after her tragic death and published in her memory. It later went viral and was read by over 1.4 million people. What Keegan had had to say was getting communicated, and it was touching people in a very personal and powerful way.

Because it consists of essays and short stories, it is a relatively easy read, with plenty of good places to stop, sit and contemplate what you have just read. It is full of interesting and profound thoughts that make you want to sit for a while once you’ve finished reading one part and just let the messages and themes sink in. It’s the sort of book that you carry around in your bag to read whenever you feel down or worried: it’s full of hopeful messages.

Particularly strongly communicated throughout many of the essays and stories in the book is the sense of possibility, particularly for people of her own or a similar age. Keegan seemed to have had a lot of hope for the growth of her generation and for their helping to create a better world to live in for absolutely everyone. She stresses that we are all capable of great and good things, and that, in order to succeed, all we have to do is put our minds to something and watch ourselves soar. The way she writes makes everything anything seem possible, and it’s a message that definitely needs spreading, particularly now, when the world needs so much help. We just need to inspire people to start getting their hands dirty.

Hope, too, is a key theme of the book, and is captured in many different ways by the various essays and short stories. Because they are all self-contained, the ways in which the theme is explored and developed changes so frequently that it doesn’t get old or stale. Instead, it retains its power, which makes the message much stronger for anyone reading. Her uncertainty, too, that spills through her writing occasionally, makes her seem more human, more approachable, and somehow makes everything seem all the more real. Because of that, her hope seems tangible and real and something that we, the readers, can take a part of. She has left something of herself in her writing, which makes it all the more compelling to read.