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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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