THE LOST LIVES OF THE ROMANOV GRAND DUCHESSES
PUBLICATION: UK: Pan Macmillan, 27 March 2014 USA: St Martin's Press, 3 June 201 4
The four captivating young Romanov sisters were perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. And with good reason; they were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, and their devotion to their parents and sick brother. From an early age they were inevitably at the centre of unceasing gossip about the dynastic marriages they might make. But who were they really beyond the saccharine image perpetuated by those now familiar photographs of them as pretty girls in white dresses and big hats? What were their personal hopes, dreams and aspirations and how did they interact with each other and with their parents? What was life really like within the highly insular Imperial Family and how did they really feel about their mother’s obsessive and all consuming love for their spoilt brother Alexey?
Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. They are too often seen merely as set dressing, the beautiful but innocuous background to the bigger, more dramatic story of their parents – Russia’s last Tsar and Tsarina, Nicholas and Alexandra. They are perceived as lovely, desirable and living charmed lives. But the truth is somewhat different.
For most of their short lives the four Romanov sisters were beautiful birds in a gilded cage, shut away at their palaces at Tsarskoe Selo or Livadia as a reaction to the fear of terrorist attacks on the Imperial Family. In reality the sisters had few friends and were largely cut off from the real world outside and the normal life experiences of other girls – that is, until everything changed in 1914. Suddenly, with Russia’s entry into the war, the girls had to grow up fast.
In a deliberate echo of the title of Chekhov’s play, Four Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, drawing on previously unseen and unpublished letters, diaries and memoirs of the period.
The book is also the subject of a forthcoming documentary ‘Russia’s Lost Princesses’, which the author has been working on with Silver River Productions for BBC2. A transmission date will be announced soon.
Rappaport is a consummate and compelling biographer who can always be relied on to put humanity into history, painting the past in all its dramatic detail but placing people at the forefront of her penetrating portraits.
Lancashire Evening Post
Four Sisters excels at re-creating the claustrophobic atmosphere of Alexandra's mother love … with her sure knowledge, mastery of surviving primary sources and enthusiasm for her subject … it is a study in unity and demonstrates resoundingly the strength of family ties.
Poignant [and] well written … Rappaport's sensitive portrayal of the doomed sisters draws the reader into an attachment to each one.
Mail on Sunday
Rappaport is insightful in her analysis of Alexandra's vulnerability and … [and] illuminates the
precise influence of Grigory Rasputin … An astoundingly intimate tale of domestic life lived in the crucible of power.
UK Hardback Edition
US Hardback Edition
WRITER HISTORIAN RUSSIANIST
Evocative and beautifully researched and told, this is narrative history at its best.
Rappaport … offers readers the most authoritative account yet of the Grand Duchesses [and] paints a vivid picture of their lives in the dying days of the Romanov dynasty.
A powerful new biography [that] firmly establishes the long-neglected Romanov children on centre stage … Compassionate, sensitive and exhaustively researched, Four Sisters is a profoundly moving book that does OTMA the service they so richly deserve.
A very sad read … but a very authoritative, superbly written one. Anybody with the slightest interest in the Romanovs, or the era, will ignore this volume at their peril.
Royal historian, John Van Der Kiste
Helen Rappaport's book, meticulously referenced and indexed, may well now see the curtain coming down on the whole Romanov story. This is perhaps the last untold piece of the jigsaw, but what a huge piece it is that Helen has carved with Four Sisters, and what an incredible experience it has been to walk alongside Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia.
Dovegreyreader book blog
Brings [the sisters] to life in a new way which, while making us love them, also makes us sorrow for them even more.
Random Jottings book blog
Rappaport brings a female sensibility to [the story] … her aim is to give individuality and identity back to each of the four sisters …[she] has breathed posthumous life into them.
Lady Bountifull book blog
An excellent biography. Impressively researched, with enough endnotes and references to satisfy the most demanding scholar, the book also manages to be a real page-turner. Quite an achievement, and highly recommended.'
Shiny New Books blog
I was enthralled by Rappaport’s book … an often harrowing read that haunted me for days afterwards and underlined the enormous waste of life involved in the birthing of modern Europe and a definite must read for anyone with even a passing interest in the period.
Madame Guillotine book blog
Rappaport captures sections of letters and diary entries to showcase the sisters’ thoughtfulness and intelligence. Readers will be swept up in the author’s leisurely yet informative narrative as she sheds new light on the lives of the four daughters
A gossipy, revealing story of the doomed Russian family’s fairy tale life told by an expert in the field.
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