Book Review: The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandria

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandria by Helen Rappaport is a comprehensive look at the last royal family of Russia. Rappaport attended Leeds University with the intention of joining the Foreign Office. She changed her mind and became an actress. She became a full-time writer in 1998 and has written several books on Russian history and Victorian history. Her work on Lenin caused a stir when she proposed that he died of syphilis rather than a stroke. 

Growing up much of the late czarist history I read came from Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandria which by no means was lacking at the time. Research as an undergraduate came from mostly dated sources because little access by the Soviets limited research. The fall of the Soviet Union opened a wealth of new information from the former Soviet archives. My academic researching days were over by that time, but I still tried to keep up. 

Two quick points. First, this is an excellent work of research and expands greatly on what I knew of the last Romanovs. Secondly, although there is a great information on the Romanov sisters, the book primarily focuses on the entire family and family life. The sisters do hold a much larger role than in any other source I have read. 

Czarist Russia has always seemed to me as a twisted fairytale. When things seem at their best they crash to unbelievable lows. Society seemed caught up in superstition. While the world looked on to the births of four beautiful girls, the Russian population wondered why the German wife couldn’t produce an heir to the throne. When the sickly Alexei much was done to hide his illness. He was the center of domestic attention. The daughters grew up sheltered partly because of their unimportance and partly because of the social unrest. The unpopular, lost war against the Japanese and Bloody Sunday of 1905 did little to raise the czar’s standing with many. 

Rappaport does an outstanding job of bringing to light the lives Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia. The daughters lives seem out of place and underrated in today’s world of royals. They were well behaved, very educated, volunteered in hospitals during the war, and sold handmade crafts raise money for charities. Although there was no doubt privilege, they lived a relatively frugal and simple life imposed on them by their mother. Their lives are examined as individuals rather than lumped together as one. 

The writing is extremely well documented and much of the material comes from primary source materials: letters and diaries. The amount of personal information in included in this book is unprecedented. The children are portrayed as real people in history with many of the same questions and challenges growing up. I have read many history books over the years and this one did such an excellent job of bringing the daughters to life. I got so involved in the story, even knowing the historical outcome, I hoped that it would end differently. Even with all the tragedies in the world, wars, and other catastrophes, this history is truly sad. I really am at a loss to speak more highly of this book. Outstanding history and research. 

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