Sunday, April 26, 2009

Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg

A romance, a family saga, a murder mystery, and a political thriller - all of these descriptions aptly fit the story of the last Russian Tsar Nicolas Romanov and his family. Many novelists and historians have written about the family, the individual members, the time period, and even the tragic love story between Nicholas and Alexandra. Like many historical tales, the lives and deaths of the Romanovs are shrouded in myth, mystery and legend.

Helen Rappaport’s new book :

Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg tells the story of Russia’s royal family at Ipatiev House in July 1918 - the last residence they occupied and where they spent their final hours. It is different not only in tone from other books, but also in the specifics it addresses. She takes great effort to individualize the family members and to remind us that while royal they were people with hopes, fears and dreams. Sheltered and protected all of their lives, removed from the everyday world and hardships of ordinary Russians the family is caught in a frightening situation without the normal trappings of their wealth and privilege. While ruling Russia the Romanov’s preferred to live simply but by virtue of their rank were entitled to opulent surroundings of their own choosing. When held by the Bolsheviks the family had no choice in their lodgings nor did they have access to their prized personal belongings or usual complement of staff.

 Taken from their palatial homes and with hopes of being exiled the family instead are captives in five gloomy rooms. Alexy,  heir to the throne has a fatal, painful disease and his four sisters spend their teen (or naive 20's) years ( not in happy youthful exuberance but in fear and with no chance to explore relationships with the opposite sex (one exception is noted in this book). Born a royal, the Tsarina is ill and perhaps a bit of a hypochondriac she is completely devastated, fearful and unprepared by the turn of events. The Tsar, always a simple and kind man who prefers exercise to affairs of state is beginning to realize that his family will not be rescued.

 Eyewitness accounts and a new look at the hierarchy for implementing the death penalty for the Tsar and also for the entire family is exposed by Rappaport. She also delineates why the family was included in the death sentence. Anyone who has read or seen anything about the Romanov family knows that the basement killings in July 1918 were brutal, but nothing compares to the vivid writing in this book. Nothing.

 But, as horrible as the deaths may have been, it is the daily life of the Romanov’s during their time in Ekaterinburg that brings heartbreak to the reader. All the windows in their rooms were sealed so there was no light from windows – nor any chance of a cool breeze. Royal dignity was displayed when even small joys were taken such as the Tsar’s daily newspaper.

 Nicholas believed he was chosen by God to rule Russia. His flaw is perhaps thinking he knew what his people wanted and needed when in reality he did not nor could he understand the suffering in his country. The deaths of the Romanov family are a Russian tragedy as well. A tragedy, however, that now seems to have closure with the identification of the remains of the bodies. Rappaport’s book does an excellent job of tracing the culpability of their deaths something that has long been in question.

 The research efforts that went into writing this book are very apparent. The way the research is used, however, is where the author distinguishes herself as a writer. Rappaport tells the story of the Romanovs last days as a reporter but with an historian’s eye and heart. Facts are meshed with personalities to provide a full complement of the actual events at Ekaterinburg. This story has been told before in bits and pieces but never the ending and never so fully and perhaps never so well. 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thrillers anyone?

If you like thrillers and missed these  older ones  most if not all of these are now in paperback. The notes on each book are short  - I decided if you want more 
information you can head to Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites!

1. Jill Gregory & Karen Tintori The Book of Names***  
 Interesting and well written mystery/thriller about an ancient text containing the  names of 36 righteous people in each generation
 who must live to keep world “safe." (And you thought you were having a bad day?)

2. David Ignatius, Body of Lies*** It is a complex snare to attract Al Queda operatives – you'll wonder if it is non-fiction  because it sounds like it could be true…
It's well written, interesting and very readable! (and yes Hollywood based a 2008 movie of the same name on Ignatius' novel -  Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio starred). 
I'm excited that his new book 
The Increment will be out in May. Lucky me - I get to read an advance copy! So watch a review. 

3. Brian McGrory Strangled ***What if the real Boston Strangler was still alive and started killing again?
This novel explores that very scenario and proceeds with  the premise  that because of his false confession the wrong man was sent to prison.  As you read this book you'll want to leave on the light. And lock the door. And the windows. And get a big dog with very big teeth.