You-are-there account of the grim 1918 countdown toward the deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
British historian Rappaport (No Place for Ladies: The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War, 2007, etc.) combines detailed scholarship with an engaging narrative style. She lays the groundwork by summarizing Nicholas’ tumultuous reign and the list of grievances that Russia’s new communist regime and many citizens had against him. Short mini-biographies of the royal couple, their four daughters and one son make the point that isolation from their subjects caused resentment to build and made the leaders of the Bolshevik government intent on swift, brutal justice. Rappaport doesn’t break much new ground in her descriptions of the cramped conditions and onerous restrictions that defined the Romanovs’ lives under heavy guard from April 30 to July 17, 1918, in the Siberian city of Ekaterinburg. She does, however, strongly convey how far they had fallen and how difficult living in such close quarters was, especially for the Tsaritsa Alexandra and her son, Tsarevich Alexey, who were both quite ill. Rappaport’s research uncovered some previously unknown efforts by British and German monarchs to rescue the Romanovs and provide them with safe haven. These efforts were stymied by “flabbiness of will,” in addition to internal and external political obstacles, she concludes. The book’s most gripping sections describe the days and hours leading up to and including the family’s execution. Rappaport spares few details; indeed, some unduly lengthy recitals of meals and similar trivialities could have been omitted. There’s no flab, however, in her grisly evocation of the scene after the execution: “The corpses, many of them with hideous, gaping head wounds and broken and dislocated limbs, were now horribly mangled and ugly, their hair matted with caked blood. It was almost impossible to associate these wretched twisted bodies with the five charming, vibrant children of the official publicity.”
Solid political and social history, related with the vigor of a true-crime thriller.