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The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and…

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming

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I did not want this book to end, it was a fascinating, enlightening, and horrifying read. Having taken Russian history, studied abroad to St. Petersburg for two weeks, and been a huge fan of the animated movie, Anastasia, I STILL learned a ridiculous amount! This book was chock full of amazing facts, details, and accounts and was impossible to put down! This nonfiction novel chronicled the entire family history of the last Romanov family, the political tensions in Russia, and even had great first hand accounts from peasants, workers, and other Russian citizens to contrast with life in the palace. I believe this novel painted a very accurate, albeit not flattering, account of the last imperial family, but the account will still make readers sympathize with untimely demise of the last ruling family. It was simply fascinating, it pulled accounts from diaries, letters, official documents, and more to create a complete picture of the huge divide between the royal family and Russian subjects that left the country ripe for civil war. I was lucky enough to have visited many of the sites mentioned: The Winter Palace, Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, St. Peter and Paul fortress (where I was able to see the final resting place of the Romanav family), and St. Petersburg. Listening to the audiobook also added an extra dimension, because many of the accounts were narrated by Russian voice actors which really helped bring the story to life for the reader (or rather listener). I give this a well deserved five star rating. It's a must read for any history buffs or those curious about the tragedy of the end of the Russian Tzars. Simply fantastic!!! ( )
  ecataldi | Apr 28, 2015 |
Candace Fleming's nonfiction novel The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & The Fall of Imperial Russia brings to life the rise of rebellion in Russia through the biographical telling of the fall of the last Romanov family. Starting with the cover of the book, everything about this text implies it's been thoroughly researched - from the support of famous reviewers such as Kirkus and Publishers Weekly to the photos depicting both the Romanov family and their subjects. Opening to the end of the book, Fleming has provided the reader with an extensive list of primary sources (4 pages worth) along with general sources used and the author's own account of her journey in search of answers. The primary sources she uses consists of diaries, letters and other documents that were believed to have been destroyed until the collapse of the Soviet Union. When introducing her sources, Fleming addresses two issues: (1) the fact that most accounts were originally written in Russian or French, leading to variation in translation and (2) most accounts have two dates because, during Nicholas' reign, Russia used the Julian calendar rather than today's Gregorian calendar. She also mentions the calendar issue at the beginning of the book in a short informational blurb that explains terms or ideas that would be helpful when approaching the text (i.e. tsar and how Russian nomenclature works). There's also an extensive index listed at the back of the book following some online resources about the Romanovs and quotation notes. The book's credibility is further strengthened by the fact that it won this year's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

Fleming's book is chronologically organized into four parts; Part One: Before the Storm, Part Two: Dark Clouds Gathering, Part Three: The Storm Breaks, and Part Four: Final Days. Each section is then further divided into chapters and short vignettes providing insight into lives outside the Romanov family. I would say that this book actually tells three stories: (1) the rise and fall of Nicholas II's reign, (2) an historical account of Russia from 1903 to the 1920s when Lenin was in power, and (3) an observation of the average peasant's life in Russia during the early 20th century. In other words, Fleming doesn't just depict one side or the other in a favorable light; by inserting vignettes about peasant life such as "Lullabies for Peasant Babies" (40), she also shows readers the stark contrast between how the Romanov family lived versus the average person in Russia. Not only that, but through the use of quotes from primary source documents, she humanizes Nicholas and his family, especially when describing his emotions during major events in his life (e.g. the birth of his children in chapters 2 and 3 and the celebration of three centuries of Romanovs in chapter eight). In other words, she tries to eliminate a bias by showing both sides of the coin along with using a no-nonsense style of writing; any time she sensationalizes something, she merely acts as the mouthpiece for a figure from that time period.

As a future high school ELA teacher, I would definitely consider having my students read parts of this as a supplementary text if we were reading Russian literature (e.g. Crime and Punishment). The story line is engaging and Fleming never spends too much time on one topic, which keeps the pace going and, I feel, keeps the student reading. This is done by the author's use of sub-topics in each chapter, which helps to break the text into more manageable chunks. The Romanov children, although born into wealth, are depicted as kids that students could relate to, especially when Fleming describes how much they hated schooling and the pranks they played on their tutors (88-92). However, this book is definitely more geared towards older students (complex language structure and some graphic images such as Rasputin's "battered corpse" and the site of the Romanov family murder), so I would recommend it for grades 9 and up. Based on what I saw on Destiny (UNO's Children's Library's search engine), there didn't seem to be any books on the Romanov family, so I think this would make a great addition to the collection. ( )
  vroussel | Mar 16, 2015 |
During the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, the rich grew richer, the poor grew poorer, and the government grew out of control as the leaders lost touch with the realities of life for the average Russian peasant or worker. Unprepared to lead a country, Nicholas listened to bad advice, took drastic action that exacerbated the problems the country faced, and failed to act when action was needed. As the government was overthrown, and then overthrown again, Nicholas and his family suffered the fatal effects of these decisions.

I've read a fair bit about the Russian revolution, so most of the major details of this story were familiar to me. Fleming has done a great job of researching and organizing her facts, including primary source accounts from common people as well as the nobility. However, I felt that she was not sympathetic to the subjects of this book, the Romanov family themselves. (In a speech accepting the nomination of this book as a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist, she admitted that she initially intended to write just about Anastasia, but found her "boring" the more she researched her.) I feel that a biographer, even of such flawed subjects as the Romanovs, should find something to like in her subject matter. On the other hand, this book is almost compulsively readable, hard to put down even if you know what is coming. (I did, and I still kept reading right up until bedtime, with the result that I had nightmares about the House of Special Purpose, as I knew I would.) And despite the dark portrait she paints of the Romanovs, she does not give the impression that what followed for Russia was an improvement. I think this is a good introduction to the Romanov family and the Russian revolution for readers unfamiliar with the topic, but would recommend looking at other sources as well if you find this period interesting. ( )
  foggidawn | Feb 6, 2015 |

Linda's review: http://blog.threegoodrats.com/2014/12/the-family-romanov.html

Candace Fleming has written an excellent, accessible history of the last Romanov family and the upheaval in Russia in the early 1900s through the first World War and the revolution. The Romanovs' story is juxtaposed with primary source documents from "the 99%," as it were: farmers, peasants, factory workers, the unemployed and starving.

I'm not convinced that even if Nicholas had seen firsthand evidence of his people's suffering that he would have truly understood it and acted to alleviate it, but in any case, he refused to see it or believe reports about it at all. When workers went on strike, he responded not with compromise but with violence. If he had been educated properly in affairs of state, his reactions might have been different, but his father didn't bother to educate him or let him gain any experience. Nicholas and Alexandra, in turn, didn't place much stock in education for their own offspring: four girls, and finally the necessary male heir, Alexei, all of whom grew up apart from the court and government.

A lot of senseless tragedy could have been averted if Nicholas had chosen to emulate his grandfather, the progressive Tsar Alexander II, or even if he had paid as much attention to events as his own father, but instead Nicholas took a head-in-the-sand approach, and Alexandra believed in leaving everything up to God. After converting to the Russian Orthodox church, Alexandra was particularly prone to putting her faith in icons and dubious "holy men" such as Rasputin.

There was much I didn't know about Russia during this period, and this book filled in many gaps. I didn't know that the Romanov family lived outside of the capital city during Nicholas' rule, or that they were moved to Tobolsk and then Ekaterinburg before they were executed. This whole episode in Russian history raises questions about the importance of individual personality and belief in divine right.


Secluded as he was in the country [at Tsarskoe Selo], tucked away from the happenings in the capital, Nicholas quickly lost touch with people and events. His and Alexandra's life together was ' a sort of everlasting cozy tea-party,' remarked one historian, fine for an ordinary private citizen, but not for the ruler of Russia. (34)

"The weakness of one man and one woman...Oh, how terrible an autocracy without an autocrat!" (Duma member, 1915-1916, p. 150)

"...it's like water off a duck's back, all is submission to God. How else can I explain...such total blindness and deafness?" (cousin Sandro after speaking to Tsar Nicholas and Empress Alexandra, 160-161) ( )
  JennyArch | Dec 17, 2014 |
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