The reader speaks well, paying careful attention to pronunciation, but often, with so many Russian names rolling off her tongue, I was unable to picture or fathom any of them, let alone try to remember them. Although she spoke clearly, she didn’t vary much in tone or pitch. The voice was resonant, but very soft and kind of melancholy. I believe I would have been better off with the print book, rather than the audio.
The author’s excellent research is evident with the information presented on every page. It was very detailed and the lives of the Romanov daughters do come alive for the reader. However, sometimes it was repetitive, for how many times can you hear about the illness of a particular character or the balls someone attended without feeling the story should move on a bit faster. I often lost track of the children’s ages and of how much time had passed, and in the end, thought they had been in prison for years when only one year had gone by.
Actually, the book only covers a little over two decades in the lives of the Tsar and Tsarina, Nicholas II and Alexandra who was of British nobility and converted to the Russian Orthodox religion to marry. The royal couple shared a deep love for each other. The children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei, the legitimate heir, who is covered in large part only with reference to his genetic illness, Hemophilia, were largely kept out of the public eye, to the dismay of their subjects who thought they should be more privy to information about them and wanted them placed on pedestals to view as they grew. Alexie’s health was often a concern since he was the legitimate heir to the throne. Rasputin was called in often, to bring him back to health, and magically, he often did have that effect on him and others.
For much of the Romanov reign, they feared assassination attempts. Neither the Tsar or the Tsarina particularly liked the position they were in and therefore, seemed unfit for to handle the task of ruling the country. He didn’t seem to want or enjoy governing, and she preferred solitude to affairs of state. She was often sick, preventing her appearances, and the children were completely sheltered and protected at all times, as well. They all seemed to be naïve about what behavior was expected of them, both in public and private, and they did not perform their duties in the way their subjects considered proper or acceptable for royalty. Rather they seemed more ordinary. They were not opposed to doing things for themselves or to do physical labor. When the war broke out, Nicholas joined the fight and the children and their mother nursed the victims. Also, although they lived well, they did not live in the lavish style of most reigning nobility. Still they were pampered with 100’s of servants and guards protecting them when they moved about. Perhaps discontent for the ruler just goes with the job.
From this author’s presentation, I found the ultimate treatment of the family to be cruel and brutal. The revolutionaries who overthrew their dynasty were just like all other revolutionaries. They were concerned with protecting their own positions and behaved barbarically, wantonly committing murder. The Romanovs were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Bolsheviks came to power. They seemed completely unprepared for the way they would be treated, with unrealistic expectations and seemed utterly surprised when they were taken prisoner and treated like commoners. Still, through it all, they maintained, for the most part, an optimistic attitude, always remaining hopeful that they would have their freedom back one day. They all adapted well, or tried to, no matter what the hardship, in spite of illness, in spite of the fact that they began to show the effects of their ill treatment, as time passed.
The beautiful letters that were written and the experiences documented in diaries and journals laid bare their lives for the reader who cannot help but sympathize with their plight. They were portrayed as almost guileless, and the children surely were. They had no dominion over themselves and were punished simply because of their bloodline, as were those closely associated with them.
The revolutionaries, perhaps, ushered in an era of even greater oppression for the people of Russia, which continues somewhat today. The Socialists, the Bolsheviks, the Communists, Lenin and Stalin all eventually feared for their own futures as the Tsar and Tsarina had lived in fear of theirs. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”