Fact or Fiction: The Romanov Dynasty

In Fact or Fiction I recommend a fiction and nonfiction book on the same topic. This month you can choose a revealing account of the four Romanov daughters by a noted historian, a captivating historical novel about Grand Duchess Olga, the eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas, or both! Either way you’ll be immersed in the last, catastrophic years of the Romanov dynasty.

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

They were four charming, intelligent sisters, each with her own personality, talents, and weaknesses. However, in the eyes of the world they were always a group: the four grand duchesses of Russia. They captivated the world from the moment of their births, and still today the tragic story of the four beautiful doomed sisters fascinates. Helen Rappaport captures the real sisters, their hopes and dreams, fears and frailties in her immensely readable book The Romanov Sisters. 

Olga, the eldest, was sensitive and prone to melancholy. She was also warm-hearted and impulsive, and fell in love with unsuitable soldiers. The second sister, Tatiana, was reticent and altruistic. A born nurse, she kept the household running when her chronically ill mother could not. Middle sister Maria was self-effacing, plump and pretty. As the most “typically Russian” she was loved by all who knew her. Impudent, irrepressible Anastasia was a cheeky clown who brought laughter and naughtiness to the imperial family. 

Simply raised, the girls grew up charmingly unspoiled by their loving parents. There was plenty of laughter and fun in the imperial household to be sure, but sadness was their constant companion. Younger brother Alexei’s hemophilia was a constant worry, as was their mother’s chronic, incapacitating ill health. Above all were the increasing challenges to their father’s autocratic rule, which kept the girls isolated and eventually proved their undoing. 

The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull

Grand Duchess Olga knows, as the eldest of four daughters, it is her duty to Imperial Russia to marry into another royal family. Although she and her sisters are well-loved, the household revolves around her young brother Alexei, heir to the crown if he can survive his hemophilia. As the sheltered Olga enters Russian society, she can’t help having romantic feelings for the handsome young soldiers who cross her path. She secretly dreams her parents will relent and allow her to marry whomever she wishes. 

As Russia enters the war, marriage plans take a backgseat as Olga and her sisters begin nursing and assisting with the war effort. Older now and exposed to more people, the naïve and innocent Olga begins to learn some unpleasant things about her family.

What influence does the crude and mysterious Father Grigori Rasputin have on her mother? Why is her father oblivious to the suffering of the Russian people? And why have the crowds stopped cheering when she and her sisters drive by? It becomes clear her parents’ rule over Russia is rapidly crumbling, and she and her family are in grave danger. 

Based on extensive research including Grand Duchess Olga’s actual diaries, The Last Grand Duchess is an absorbing portrait of a young woman coming of age during a time of great upheaval. 

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Constant reader, book selector, shameless promoter of good reads - these are just a few of the things I do as a Collection Development Professional. I love sharing the hidden gems in our nonfiction collection!