Sometimes reading a nonfiction book that you know ends badly is a struggle. You relive the difficulties faced by the subjects. The struggle is well worth it with Helen Rappaport’s The Romanov Sisters.
So much has been written about Russia’s Nicholas and Alexandra and their five children. Held in captivity by the Bolsheviks, they were ultimately murdered execution style. The four princesses of the family, only two years apart in age, tend to get lumped together without individual identities of their own. Rappaport brings each of the Grand Duchesses to life, vividly detailing their personalities and roles in the larger family unit. The oldest, Olga, could be obstinate. Tatiana was considered the most beautiful, having the looks of her elegant mother Alexandra. Maria had a talent for painting and the arts. Anastasia, nicknamed Nastia, was a scamp who was always defying the nanny’s rules and getting into trouble.
When their brother Alexei was born, the girls’ lives changed. Alexei suffered from hemophilia, the genetically-based “bleeding disease” passed down from his mother’s side of the family. All the girls—actually, the entire family and retinue of servants—immediately became watchdogs after Alexei. Everyone was required to be extremely careful of the young Tsarevich as the slightest bump or bruise could start a life-threatening hemorrhage.
As the girls grew into teenagers, they began to give back to the people of Russia. They often visited wounded soldiers in military hospitals, and Olga served as a nurse during World War I. Their adult lives were just beginning when they were killed.