After finishing The Romanov Sisters I feel pleasantly deceived but deceived nonetheless. The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport is presented as a book about the lives of the four young Romanov girls – Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia – however much of the book isn’t about them at all. The book focuses very heavily on their parents, their brother Alexei and the political turmoil of Russia. The first 15%-20% of the book details the background of their mother, Alexandra, rather than introducing the girls themselves. The awkwardness of this is only compounded by the lack of background on their father, Nicholas. While I did indeed enjoy this glimpse inside the lives of the Romanov family and it does feel thoroughly and accurately researched I can’t help but feel that readers who are seeking a book about the sisters (affectionately referred to as OTMA by combining the first letters of their first names) may be disappointed.
It almost feels as though this book deserves two separate reviews – one for the book as described and one for the book as written. As described the book is a failure but as written it’s actually a wonderful read. Considering this book, not as a book about the sisters, but rather as a book about the family and the political turmoil of their country, it is a definite success.
In this book the story of the sisters is frequently overshadowed by their younger brother Alexei or by the lives of their parents. When the sisters are the focus of the writing Rappaport pays far more attention to the lives of the older sisters, Olga and Tatiana, leaving Maria and Anastasia in the shadows and nearly forgotten. I missed reading about them when they were omitted although when they were included they felt lifeless almost as though they were included as an afterthought or only because they were part of “OTMA.” It also felt somewhat “off” that Rappaport failed to include the final days of this unique family with any importance. While reading this book I often felt that the purpose of this one was only to entice readers to purchase Rappaport’s other works. In 2008 she wrote, “The Last days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg” also published by St. Martin’s Press which was a bestseller. It felt like “The Romanov Sisters” ended without delving too much into the final tragedy because readers are expected to purchase her 2008 release. While it may indeed have interested me in her other work this book ended rather awkwardly and rushed.
In the end I’m left feeling conflicted and undecided. I liked the history of the Romanov family but I feel as though the sisters were not the main focus despite how the book is described. I enjoyed the Russian history but didn’t expect it. The family as a whole was heavily involved with Alexei, the Romanov brother, overshadowing his sisters in the book as he did in life. The ending was rushed, awkward and felt as though it was intended only to encourage readers to purchase Rappaport’s other work. A good book? Yes. As described? No.