The Romanov Sisters

June 4, 2014 Biography, History, non-fiction 16

18404173Title: The Romanov Sisters
Author: Helen Rappaport
Source: from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Summary: Parts of this book were interesting or moving, but most of the time so many details of the sisters’ monotonous daily routines were included that the story dragged.

Even during the lifetime of the four beautiful Romanov sisters, their mysterious personal lives lead to much speculation and idolization. This book uses many diaries, letters, and other first person accounts to bring the sisters to life. The book starts when their mother journeys to Russia, a lonely bride in a strange land. It then follows the rest of the sisters’ lives, through the beginning of the first world war and their eventual murder by Bolshevik soldiers.

I was surprised that knowing the end of this story didn’t bother me. On the contrary, the constant reminder that the sisters’ sadly sheltered lives ended in such a tragic fashion gave this book a poignancy which I think was its’ best feature. The many first-person accounts did a great job bringing the sisters’ individual personalities to life. It was hard to not feel desperately sad for the whole family as you got to know them and saw times where their deaths might have been avoided had things gone a little differently. The most interesting parts of the story, for me, were those which highlighted the times in which the sisters lived. Both connections to large events (the outbreak of WWI, the reign of George VI of The King’s Speech) and to smaller events (Russia’s first women doctors and first motion pictures), made for a fascinating backdrop.

The details of the lives of the sisters themselves were less interesting. They led very sheltered lives, so often large chunks of the book passed with no significant changes in their lives. The constrained lives they lived in prison were boring, but no more so than their early lives sheltered by their mother. The only briefly exciting part of their story was when they served with great dedication as nurses after the outbreak of WWI. I’ve read several positive reviews of this book (including this one from Julz Reads), but it just wasn’t my favorite. Honestly, I spent much of the story waiting to reach the end, which is never a good way to feel about a book! However, I think it’s fair to say that this book has really pleased many fans with greater prior interest in the Romanovs, so don’t let my negative review dissuade you too much on this one.


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16 Responses to “The Romanov Sisters”

  1. Lindsey

    I have to imagine that what could have been is the most interesting part of their story. What would have happened if they hadn’t been so sheltered and had become the rulers of their country?
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    • DoingDewey

      That’s such a sad question! With the nursing and the sisters’ stoicism in the face of their mother’s restrictions, I feel like they could have done amazing things had they been allowed more freedom and survived the revolution.

    • DoingDewey

      That’s definitely true! I’m not sure the tedium was the author’s fault and you could even argue that it was good since it was probably an accurate depiction of how the sisters felt :)

  2. Catherine

    I don’t know why but I’m a freak for aristocracy and monarchies- Tudors, Bourbon, Hanovers, and, of core, the oh-so doomed Romanovs. I’m pretty sure this is one I’ll be reading, even if it’s not that great. Maybe I’ll just look at the photos!
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    • DoingDewey

      I didn’t know anything about them except that they inspired the Disney movie Anastasia, so I did enjoy learning more about them. I also thought the author did a great job highlighting their personalities, but the details were just a bit to much for me!

  3. TracyK

    This does sound very interesting, because I just know the barest of facts about the Romanovs. But I think I would also find the details of their daily lives a downside. And it is a relatively long book. I will have to think about it.
    TracyK recently posted…Among Others: Jo WaltonMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      I didn’t know anything about them before reading this myself and even though this wasn’t my favorite narrative nonfiction ever, it definitely made me want to learn more! A very sad but very interesting story.

    • DoingDewey

      I think that’s a great point. Although it was a bit repetitive, that might be as much because of what actually happened as because of the author’s writing style.

    • DoingDewey

      For all that I found the detail a bit much given the monotony of the sisters’ lives, I would definitely give this author’s other books a try. I knew nothing about the Romanovs going into this and this book made me want to know even more.

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