The daughters of Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra are just the right subjects for Rappaport’s (A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy, 2012, etc.) specialties in Russian and 19th-century women’s history.
This story of the four girls—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia—is not just a standard Russian history; witness the passing references to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905 and the revolution of 1905. The author’s goal is to expose the characters of these girls, brought up very much in their mother’s vision of a simple, sheltered life. Rappaport manages to maintain reader interest even as she ticks off the repetitious tale of their boring lives: long walks with their father, sewing, study, tennis and heavy doses of religion. Each year, the family would leave the palace for vacations aboard the Shtandart, the imperial yacht, in the Baltic Sea or the Crimea, where they would pretty much do the same things. A visit to their English cousins on the Isle of Wight illustrated how little social freedom they actually had. Assassination was a way of life in Russia, and the Romanovs’ security network was so strict that the family members were restricted from leaving the ship. Their social lives were nonexistent, and their playmates were the sailors on the yacht or members of the czar’s guard. Alexandra’s weak constitution initially created the family’s isolation, which the populace saw as snobbery from the German-born czarina. Add the inept autocrat, Nicholas, the hemophilia of Czarevitch Alexei and the presence of the despised Rasputin for Alexandra’s obsessive protection, and the monarchy was ripe for a fall.
A gossipy, revealing story of the doomed Russian family’s fairy tale life told by an expert in the field.