The bulk of my personal reading time last month went to a book about Russian history: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. I’ve been wanting to read more history for awhile — and failing to. This book however has the pace and human interest of a novel. One of Rappaport’s stated goals was to bring the characters of the four daughters of the last Imperial family of Russia out of their brother’s shadow and into clear focus. She sought to extricate them as individuals from the family group and from “hagiography” that erases human vividness. To do this, she drew richly on personal letters and diaries. In the process, she also gives a wonderfully sharp portrait of their parents — and their brother too. (For me, in many ways, he even remained the most compelling character among a cast of characters each thoroughly compelling.)
I fell completely in love with the entire family. Rappaport struck me as more critical of Alexandra, the mother, than of the others, but I found her intensely sympathetic and the criticisms, one and all, beside the point.
The Russian Orthodox Church canonized the whole family. One can look at that with skepticism but I was convinced, by this deliberately non-hagiographic account, of their real sanctity. They were spiritual relatives of the Martin family (what might have happened if Louis Martin had been on earth the King he was in his daughter’s eyes). And the only possible consolation for the wrongness of their murders will be to see them reign with Jesus King of Kings forever.