In her latest book, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (St. Martin’s Press 2015; $17.99), historian Helen Rappaport writes about the four young women who, as daughters of the Tsar of Russia, were swept up in the Russian Revolution in 1917.
“I had a very longstanding desire to write about the Romanov sisters because I felt very strongly that they had been totally marginalized by history – they had always been the pretty set dressing to the bigger more dramatic story of their parents, Nicholas and Alexandra, and their tragic young brother who was heir to the throne,” says Rappaport. “I wanted to tell their story, as individuals, to describe their own unique personalities, for they were very different from each other, and show what a loving and supportive group of sisters they were to their sick mother and brother, and how they kept everyone’s spirits up after the revolution changed their world so irrevocably.”
Known to most of us by photos showing them dressed in exquisite white dresses and large hats and by the movies and novels based upon the mystery of Anastasia, the youngest of the sisters and whether she had escaped the mass slaughter of the rest of her family (she didn’t, says Rappaport), the author did extensive research finding newspapers, memoirs, journals and letters scattered across the globe.
It was a time full of so many imponderables and so much that could have been different says Rappaport including how the revolution could have been averted if Nicholas II had agreed to political concessions and the formation of a truly democratic government or if the tsarina Alexandra had not allowed herself to be so in thrall to Rasputin because of her desperation at keeping her son Alexey, who was a hemophiliac, alive, thanks to his supposed gifts of healing.
“I always live with my subjects very intensely when writing my books and immerse myself very deeply in the period of history,” says Rappaport, author of 12 books. “But I have to say that of all the books I have written, the Romanov sisters lived in my heart and my mind much more than any of my other subjects. I am myself a mother of two daughters, and have a granddaughter the age Anastasia was when she died. By the end of my research Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia felt like my own daughters. And they will always be with me, no matter what else I write. I wanted so passionately to tell their story.”
What: Author Helen Rappaport Discusses the Romanov Sisters
When: 6:30-8:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 11
Where: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State Street, Chicago IL
FYI: (312) 747-4300