Tuesday 15 July 2014

Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by Helen Rappaport

On 17 July 1918, four young women walked down twenty-three steps into the cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg. The eldest was twenty-two, the youngest only seventeen. Together with their parents and their thirteen-year-old brother, they were all brutally murdered. Their crime: to be the daughters of the last Tsar and Tsaritsa of All the Russias. 
Much has been written about Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their tragic fate, as it has about the Russian Revolutions of 1917, but little attention has been paid to the Romanov princesses, who – perhaps inevitably – have been seen as minor players in the drama. In Four Sisters, however, acclaimed biographer Helen Rappaport puts them centre stage and offers readers the most authoritative account yet of the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Drawing on their own letters and diaries and other hitherto unexamined primary sources, she paints a vivid picture of their lives in the dying days of the Romanov dynasty. 
We see, almost for the first time, their journey from a childhood of enormous privilege, throughout which they led a very sheltered and largely simple life, to young womanhood – their first romantic crushes, their hopes and dreams, the difficulty of coping with a mother who was a chronic invalid and a haeomophiliac brother, and, latterly, the trauma of the revolution and its terrible consequences. 
Compellingly readable, meticulously researched and deeply moving, Four Sisters gives these young women a voice, and allows their story to resonate for readers almost a century after their death.

Four Sisters by Helen Rappaport was published in the UK by Pan Macmillan on 27 March 2014.

I knew very little about the Romanov Grand Duchesses, or in fact about Russian history before I read Four Sisters, so for me, this was a whole new world to enter.

Four Sisters is a history book, it's also a joint biography and I have been absolutely fascinated by this story. I don't know if it is all factually correct, I'm sure that the author has slanted the writing with her own perceptions, but nevertheless, this book is a fascinating read - well written and very easy to get lost in.

Alexandra, the Tsarina and granddaughter of Queen Victoria was always determined to create a warm and loving family for her four daughters. Her biggest mistake was to fail to take a bigger part in the life of the imperial court, and this decision alienated her from the Russian people. It was also this decision that probably sealed the fate of her and her beloved family.  Alexandra's love and overwhelming passion for her family did create a family who adored each other, but also created a family who were distant from their subjects.

It is clear that Helen Rappaport is both passionate and very knowledgeable about her subject, and she has recreated the life of this family so well. The longing for a son and heir is so strong, and when finally a boy child arrives, the sense of disappointment that he is clearly not well enough to take the throne is overwhelming.

Everyday life before the revolution for these four sisters was fairly ordinary. They developed crushes on young men, they relished being part of the war, whether it was by using their nursing skills or raising money, and most of all they enjoyed being part of a loving, solid family.

There are some wonderful illustrations in this book, my hard back copy really is a joy to own. The author has used letters and diary entries to create a colourful story that I really enjoyed and has certainly sparked an interest in this part of history.

My thanks to Philippa at Pan Macmillan who sent my copy for review.

Helen Rappaport is a historian with a specialism in the nineteenth century. She is the author of eleven published books, including Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs and Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert and the Death that Changed the Monarchy. She is also the author, with Roger Watson, ofCapturing the Light

For more information, you can visit her website at www.helenrappaport.com.
Follow her on Twitter @HelenRappaport

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  1. Thanks for sharing your review Anne, I like the sound of this one.

  2. Sounds fascinating Anne - I'm quite mesmerised by this family and this period...and your lovely review of course! x