I'm very glad to see The Last Grand Duchess in print once again. (It was originally published in the mid 1960s). This is the memoir/biography of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, youngest daughter of Tsar Alexander III and sister of Tsar Nicholas II. She lived through and witnessed a tumultuous era in Russian and world history, having been born in 1882 and living until 1960. She was born to enormous wealth in a palace and died in poverty in an apartment above a barber shop. In her final years in Canada Grand Duchess Olga became friends with the author, Ian Vorres, and agreed to allow him to publish her reminiscences. Vorres did an excellent job of preserving the Grand Duchess's voice and opinions while grounding them in as much historical research as possible.
Olga Alexandrovna was not a brilliant or well educated woman. Her voice is that of a woman caught on the wrong side of history who suffered much tragic loss. She is understandably sympathetic to Imperial Russia and blind to its shortcomings. Nevertheless, the reader will find little bitterness in her story.
Olga was an individualist who enjoyed painting and a quiet country life. She endured nearly twenty years of a mockery of a marriage her mother forced her into, then found happiness as the wife of an ordinary Russian officer. Her second marriage caused her to become something of an outcast among her fellow Romanovs in exile, but she willingly gave up their society for the life of a simple country wife and mother, first in Denmark and later in Canada.
The most valuable parts of the book today are Olga's memories of her brother Nicholas, his wife Alexandra, and their five children. Her descriptions of their loving home and family and of her brother and sister-in-law's many kindnesses are a welcome contrast to the many books which depict the last Tsar and Empress as cold and heartless. Even more important are Olga's memories of Rasputin. She must have been among the last people to clearly remember him, and her description of him is vivid and disturbing.
This is an excellent book for any student of Russia and the Romanovs.