“The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & The Fall Of Imperial Russia,” by Candace Fleming.
Schwartz & Ward Books, New York, 2014, 292 pages, Grades 9-12.
Russia is a huge land filled with many contradictions and mysteries. There has always been great wealth in the country and brutal poverty. The Russian people have always been torn between the continents of Europe and Asia. Russian mysticism has always intrigued outsiders. In this gigantic land, so often torn by war, the Romanov monarchy arises. For over 300 years, they rule Russia as absolute autocrats. This means that the Tsars can proclaim a law and it becomes the statute of the land.
The Tsars have the final say over everything in Russia. For centuries, this autocratic system leads the country. However, with the advent of the 20th century, the world begins to change. New forms of transportation and communication are developed. New philosophies about individual freedom and social structures are created. At the head of the Romanov dynasty in 1900 is Tsar Nicholas II. A shy, retiring man, Nicholas is particularly ill equipped to face these new challenges. Candace Fleming has written a gripping account of the conditions prior to the revolution in 1917 and the tragic consequences after the Communist takeover. The name of this outstanding historical study is “The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & The Fall Of Imperial Russia.”
Like most historical events, the horrifying occurrences after the Soviet revolution grow due to centuries of neglect of the masses and selfish government in Russia. The Russian economic system is based on a small, educated elite running a gigantic, uneducated country. At the top of this system is the monarchy. The Tsar, Nicholas II and his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra have a deep affection for each other, but little true awareness of the situation of normal Russians. Nicholas believes that all the Russians will always believe that he is God’s representative on earth. This will result in the Russian populace always wanting him to be the Russian emperor. Alexandra, realizes that the country wants her to produce a son, the heir known as the Tsarevich. After having four daughters, she finally births a son, Alexei.
But their temporary joy is destroyed when they realize their baby son has hemophilia. Because of injuries from falls and internal bleeding, Alexei almost dies several times. But he can be cured almost magically by the hypnotic voice of the dissolute monk, Rasputin. Because of his power to cure Alexei, the Empress believes Rasputin is a holy man sent by God to aid the Romanovs. The reports of the Tsarist Police on Rasputin’s sexual episodes to Nicholas are to no avail. Never wanting to be Tsar in the first place, Nicholas acquiesces to the dominating opinions of Alexandra. As World War I erupts and bleeds Russia white, Nicholas reads and daydreams at the Russian High Command and Alexandra listens to her “dear friend,” Rasputin. The social order begins to disintegrate and Russia starts into a slow motion revolution. After Rasputin is assassinated, both Nicholas and Alexandra fall into a state of inactive stupor. As the country falls apart, the royal couple does nothing. But others are busy. Lenin arrives in St. Petersburg and plans the Communist takeover of the country. He is successful and soon plans the destruction of the Romanovs. How does this all end?
Fleming has written an outstanding account of the Romanov dynasty and the 1917 Revolution. She never glamorizes Nicholas and Alexandra and frequently points out their inability to understand the currents that will overthrow the monarchy. At the same time, the author paints a charitable portrait of a family caring for each other as they struggle against world events that they don’t comprehend. The book is an engrossing account of these turbulent times; she closes with recent DNA studies on physical remains of the Romanovs. As well, she tells of the Russian government’s desire to tell as little of the story as possible. But as Shakespeare said,” the truth will out where it will.” We all have our limits, and the Romanovs faced their brutal end with courage and dignity. I hope you get a chance to read this fine book.