Books – With the centennial of WWI upon us and that of the Russian Revolution soon to come, the last imperial family of Russia has been a popular subject recently. Two important histories were published in 2014.
The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport, a book for adult readers, is an intimate and personal family history that accomplishes the difficult task of making its royal subjects individual and relatable. As the title suggests, its highlight is the degree to which it addresses with the four Romanov grand duchesses–Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia–as unique personalities, avoiding the tendency of onlookers (during their lifetimes and since) to lump them together into one unit. The treatment of the family, its personalities and their actions, is neither sentimental nor condemnatory, providing a detached authorial perspective that allows readers to make up their own minds.
The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming, intended for teen audiences and up, distinguishes itself from The Romanov Sisters by the strength of its narrative thread and breadth of its scope. Rather than limiting itself to the Romanovs, The Family Romanov features a series of “Beyond the Palace Gates” sections that describe broader events in Russia and the world. Even for older readers who may have some familiarity with the history of the period, this context is a thoughtful addition that enriches the story. Fleming is also adept at exploiting the inherent tension of her tragic subject to keep readers on edge and eager to continue. That said, Fleming has much more of an authorial agenda than Rappaport. Readers of The Family Romanov will emerge with a very clear sense of her opinions and point of view (not necessarily either a good or bad thing).
Both books are well-written, deeply researched and engaging; I would have no hesitation in recommending either one. If I were forced to choose between them, however, my verdict would come down in favor of The Family Romanov, whether for adult, tween or teen readers. It is more readable and memorable, and the added background into the lives of everyday Russians and famous historical figures outside the royal family adds an extra layer of depth.