For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, I’ve long been fascinated by the last Tsar of Russia and his family. A few years ago I read Nicholas and Alexandra, which is considered sort of the gold standard of histories about them, and I definitely enjoyed reading it. Historically, the four daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra were much less important than their little brother Alexei, whose hemophilia changed the course of history. In Nicholas and Alexandra, as in real life, the four girls tended to fade into the background of the story overshadowed by their brother’s illness, their mother’s reliance on Rasputin, World War I, and the Russian Revolution which led to the assassinations of the entire family.
The Romanov Sisters attempts to shed some light on the four girls and their private lives. Using letters and diaries, Rappaport fleshes out the personalities of each girl. Olga, the oldest, had a tendency to melancholy like her mother. She took her role as the oldest sister seriously and was devoted to Alexei. Tatiana showed tremendous promise as a nurse during World War I, and was extremely reticent and quiet in her personal life. Maria was the considered by most to be the sweetest and kindest sister, and Anastasia was a bit of a pain in the neck. The girls were 22, 21, 19, and 17 when they were murdered with their parents, brother, and household staff in Siberia.
Rappaport did an excellent job humanizing the girls and describing their day-to-day lives. Being princesses, their lives were different from anyone else’s, but even more so because they were princesses in the incredibly odd court of their parents, who were never suited to public life. The five children had no friends their own age–only servants and soldiers. Thankfully they had each other. Naturally this is a sad book with a terrible ending, but reading the girls’ stories in their own words through their diaries and letters was also sweet and sometimes funny. They seem like remote, tragic figures, but they were just girls born into strange circumstances.