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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a retelling, fresh in parts
The trouble is, there isn't a lot that can be said about the Tsar's daughters which has not been said already. Their lives in history have certainly not been "lost", as this book's subtitle has it, the four girls are today more famous and better-known than when they were alive. These sheltered princesses were beautiful, but are they really of sufficient interest to...
Published 7 months ago by S. Ramsey-Hardy

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars like I would a novel
3.5 stars. I intended to dip in and out of this meaty biography but ended up reading it straight, like I would a novel. A bit dense and repetitive at times, especially as I didn't have anything more than a working knowledge of the Romanovs or the Revolution.

Although purported to be a biography of the four girls, I came away knowing a lot more about their...
Published 3 months ago by rinylou


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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a retelling, fresh in parts, 26 April 2014
By 
S. Ramsey-Hardy (italy) - See all my reviews
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The trouble is, there isn't a lot that can be said about the Tsar's daughters which has not been said already. Their lives in history have certainly not been "lost", as this book's subtitle has it, the four girls are today more famous and better-known than when they were alive. These sheltered princesses were beautiful, but are they really of sufficient interest to sustain an entire book ?

Fortunately they share the scene with fascinating parents and a brother, and this book is actually a picture of a family. The story is familiar from several recent works. In retelling it, Helen Rappaport does her best to establish these four Grand Duchesses as individuals.

Rappaport's emphasis, utilising some sources not often heard, presents the girls in sharper focus. There are no surprising new facts but the individuality of the elder pair, Olga and Tatiana is perceptible, and they are visible -just- as personalities. This is rather less the case with the two smaller princesses Maria and Anastasia, who are understandably less defined (except that Anastasia was clearly a comedian).

The first half of this book was hard going at times, there is much (sometimes tedious) information about childhood tea parties, games, holidays, etc. Here the last Tsar and Tsarina are frankly of much greater interest than their little girls, and their growing anxiety to produce a male heir is well described.

The second half of the book with the onset of war and revolution, becomes more tense and the girls' activities more significant. Detail on the real hospital work by the two elder Grand Duchesses, by now grown up, is interesting. As are the facts, though sparse, about their first emotional attachments to wounded officers they came to know, this is very touching. These events are well-explored and sympathetically told, though only a little of this information appears to be new.

The author several times describes the stress on the Tsarina caused by the dangerous illness of her son Alexei, the Heir. It is surprising that in this study of Alexei's sisters, Ms Rappaport does not address the effect of Alexei's condition on the girls' own development as individuals. His threatening illness imposed stress on them too: we read that the boy's incurable Haemophilia was a "family secret" which had to be totally hidden from the outside world. Even (incredibly) from their own relations. "No one must know" of this threat to the dynasty and the very future of Russia.

'Family secrets' create suppressed tensions, which can be powerful -and are not good for growing children. This particular royal secret must have been suffocating. The Grand Duchess Maria's tensions were eventually unendurable: she shattered family rules by a liaison with a lowly guard. Tatiana is described as strong, but noticeably inhibited. Olga (increasingly depressed) and Anastasia (a compulsive comedian) also indicate possible reactions to the stifling family anxiety about their sick brother. The author could have looked more closely at the effects on the girls of guarding this secret, effects likely to have been profound.

The principal figure in this narrative isn't one of the sisters, it is the Tsarina Alexandra, and the book portrays her baffling character. Will it ever be possible to achieve an understanding of Alexandra's complicated nature and endless health problems ? (During the first days of the Revolution the Tsarina burnt most of her private letters, including regular correspondence with her grandmother Queen Victoria, which was very unfortunate for history.)

Evidence suggests that the Tsarina was not only the innocent carrier of the rare Haemophilia gene which went on to attack her son. A possibility the author does not explore is that Alexandra may also have inherited the Porphyria gene -a disorder which can trigger a raft of distressing symptoms. (Through Queen Victoria, the Tsarina was directly descended from King George III, and also from Mary, Queen of Scots -both now understood to be Porphyria sufferers.)

The possibility that Porphyria could have caused problems for the long-suffering Tsarina needs study. This rare genetic condition is certainly known to have afflicted at least one other of Queen Victoria's grandchildren. If the Tsarina Alexandra inherited the genes of both Haemophilia AND Porphyria, then she had an extremely unusual medical profile (but it was a profile she appears to have shared with her grandmother).

Rappaport underlines that Tsar Nicholas II was a loving father to his children and a man of goodwill, but his reactionary outlook and apathy make disturbing reading. You can't help sympathising with his panic-stricken Romanov relatives as they watched the Autocracy crumble as a result of the Tsar's inadequacy and fatalism. At least Rasputin got it spectacularly right when he warned the couple in 1914 that war would mean, "the end of everything".

The author fails to emphasise the supreme tragedy in this story: Nicholas refused to permit an elected assembly (the Duma) to share his responsibility for the Empire. The Tsar and Tsarina refused to 'go with the flow' of political development. They must take a large part of the blame for the violence of the Revolution, which destroyed their family, and blame for the Revolution's consequences for Russia in the 20th Century. The spiritual and cultural identity of Russia were almost destroyed, and the power-vacuum after the collapse of the monarchy opened the way for monsters like Stalin.

There is little information here on events surrounding the murder of the Imperial Family, which the author has examined in an earlier book, "Ekaterinburg". In itself, the story of this family is fascinating and touching. Helen Rappaport offers a very readable retelling, with some insights, and her perspective shines as much light as appears possible on the Tsar's beautiful daughters.

Maybe the author has an American editor ? I understood the author to be English, yet the book is written with transatlantic usages, e.g., a present is "gifted" when the author means 'given', etc. God forbid that English authors adopt American English for market reasons.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The tragedy of four beautiful girls caught up in a Revolution, 8 Sep 2014
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This is a wonderful book. Meticulously researched and using letters and diaries of the four sisters and members of the court. Each sister emerges as a very individual personality with different strengths. The view we receive of Rasputin is different from the usual portrait of a villain but from the sisters point of view he was a trusted friend and holy man who Alleviated the sufferings of their brother. For the first time we see the considerable nursing work done by the 2 elder sisters Olga and Tatiana during the Great War. Alix and Nicky emerge as much weaker and more controlling than I had realised. Altogether a magnificent book so well written and leaves you with an immense sadness that these girls never fulfilled their potential.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars like I would a novel, 26 Aug 2014
This review is from: Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses (Hardcover)
3.5 stars. I intended to dip in and out of this meaty biography but ended up reading it straight, like I would a novel. A bit dense and repetitive at times, especially as I didn't have anything more than a working knowledge of the Romanovs or the Revolution.

Although purported to be a biography of the four girls, I came away knowing a lot more about their mother Alexandra than either of the Grand Duchesses. Helen Rappaport spends the first fifth or so of the book on Alix's childhood, whereas Tsar Nicholas does not get the same treatment.

The level of detail from the girls' letters and diary entries saved the book from becoming too formulaic and dry. The level of research and use of primary and secondary sources is extensive, comprehensive and really impressive. I now want to get my hands on Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs by the same author.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses, 29 Mar 2014
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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Having read all of Helen Rappaport’s books, including her 2009, “Ekaterinburg: the Last Days of the Romanovs,” I was delighted to read her latest work. “The Romanov Sisters” concentrates on the story of the Romanov’s from a slightly different viewpoint; rather than highlighting the relationship of Nicholas and Alexandra, or the illness of Alexey and Alexandra’s reliance on Rasputin, she takes the largely untold life stories of four sisters and examines them in detail. Of course, the marriage of Nicholas and Alexandra, the birth of Alexey and Rasputin are all there, but instead of the mere mention of four Grand Duchesses, they become individuals – possibly for the first time in print.

When Olga was born, in 1895, Nicholas and Alexandra were besotted with their daughter. After all, Alexandra had given birth to a healthy and beautiful child and there was no reason to believe that the son needed as heir to the dynasty would not follow. In 1897 with the birth of Tatiana, Alexandra did ask what the nation would say to the birth of another daughter – obviously realising that public opinion might shift against her if she failed to produce a son. If she was concerned then, the birth of two more daughters; Maria in 1899 and Anastasia in 1901 could only have caused her – and Nicholas – extreme concern. However, as a couple they adored and loved their daughters. It is reasonable to say that, had Nicholas been in almost any other situation, four royal daughters would have been an asset. However, with Alexandra alienating the aristocracy by her non participation in society, with relatives circling and seeing the possibility of nudging their own sons nearer the throne and with only a male heir able to succeed as Tsar, the situation was a worrying one. The birth of Alexey in 1904 should have solved all problems – sadly, as we know, it caused new ones.

It is fascinating to read that, even before the first world war, many members of the foreign press were nonplussed by the Russian reaction to the birth of the four Grand Duchesses, with some objecting to the discrimination shown the girls. One American journal thought four daughters enough to guarantee the security of the succession and their visit to England in 1909 was a triumph; where the young girls enchanted press and crowds alike. However, in Russia, the knowledge that Alexey had haemophilia led their parents to retreat in order to hide their secret and the world of the four girls began to shrink amidst widespread unrest. As members of the aristocracy bemoaned their lack of contact with society and to blame Alexandra for keeping them almost prisoners in their palaces, the healer and mystic Rasputin entered their lives. Alexandra was wracked with guilt for giving her precious son the hereditary illness and, retreating into solitude and ill health herself, the girls often became carers to both their mother and brother.

This book gives all the girls their own personality and makes fascinating reading. While both Nicholas and Alexandra tended to treat their girls as younger than their age, we read of how they began to receive marriage proposals and to develop crushes on young officers that accompanied the family or on those soldiers they treated during the first world war. By 1914 there were no more desirable and marriageable royal princesses than Olga and Tatiana and, it is apparent, that both girls were young women by this time – naive and unworldly – but certainly struggling with crushes and feelings they were unable to ignore. However, the author also asks the interesting question of whether the girls were also deemed less of a desirable marriage prospect by the fear of haemophilia and the instability of Russia, plus the isolation of the girls, which made them often shy and uncomfortable in society. Although Alexandra insisted her girls were too young and inexperienced to be allowed into the St Petersburg society she objected to, she allowed them often inappropriate contact with officers in the gilded cage she confined them in – and against which they obviously longed to leave, although they rarely voiced that wish, as they were generally obedient and loving daughters.

During this book the author follows their life – from the glittering palaces of Imperial Russia, through rare, but much loved trips abroad, and on to the war and revolution. We learn of how the girls nursed the injured, how they studied and how they forlornly hung on to every word about life outside of the one they lived in. Helen Rappaport really makes this time come alive and this is a book to immerse yourself in and which, should you have any interest in this period of history, which you will enjoy immensely. Wonderfully written, sympathetic but honest, this is a welcome appraisal of the life of the four daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra – often sidelined by history, but now shown as the individuals they were and the tragedies they faced with dignity and fortitude. This is another success from an author that I admire greatly and whose books are always a pleasure to read – and re-read.

I received a copy of this book, from the publishers, for review.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sympathetic, readable and romantic biography of the Romanov daughters, 27 Mar 2014
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This is an immensely readable and sympathetic biography of the Romanov women: Tsarina Alix and her four daughters. Rappaport takes the time to distinguish the four girls: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and follows their inheritance as the descendants of Queen Victoria (who was their mother’s grandmother). Born into a world of glamour, luxury and opulence in pre-Revolutionary Russia, their upbringing was one of balls, flirtations with army officers, and pet dogs... until WW1 and the Revolution.

So this is a charming and tragic story, and Rappaport gets close to the girls themselves. What is rather disconcerting, though, is the lack of political context for their tragedy, and the use of inevitably biased, pro-aristocratic and tsarist sources. The girls, for example, can’t understand why Russia has turned against their father, oblivious to the poverty, hardship, even destitution that made up the lives of millions of ordinary Russian people. It’s not necessarily the fault, of course, of these girls, born as they were into the Romanov dynasty, but this isn’t a book which pays attention to the politically sheltered and illusory world in which they lived. We’re asked to sympathise when they are finally put on war-time food rations, and are unable to replace their clothes... conditions that many millions of Russians lived with even before the war.

The execution of these girls was of course a tragedy, but this is a book which approaches their story in what is more or less a political vacuum, and ‘revolutionaries’ are described as ‘the most frightful-looking, dirty, ragged, drunken cut-throats’: not surprisingly from a Tsarist source.

So this is an enjoyable, even romantic, read which approaches these girls as the tragic victims of fate - but there is another story that could be told.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable for fans and student s alike, 8 Sep 2014
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Many years ago I read Robert K Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra", which I continue to re-read. Since then I have read many books on the Romanovs and also on European royal families contemporaneous with them. This is the first book I have encountered that is in any way comparable to that first reading experience: poignant, down-to-earth and full of accurate detail, of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances.

Nicholas and Alexandra have been much criticised for their failures in public life. Their political survival was however not only virtually impossible because of factors over which they had no control, but their private lives were also made terrible by the chronic illness of their beloved son. Historians are often keen to sit in judgement on the last Tsar, but the Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns, and Spanish Bourbons, who lost their thrones at about the same time and arguably with fewer pressures on them - and in addition held on to their lives - are rarely subjected to such searing criticism.

This book sets out to debunk the image of the four perfect daughters - but in fact, the four girls emerge in their depth and complexity as even more attractive to modern sensibilities. Reflective Olga, elegant Tatiana, warm-hearted Maria and quirky Anastasia, with their pretty clothes, their wild teenage crushes, their hobbies and their often comically uncertain academic progress are recognisable and accessible characters, - in fact, like our own children. They remind us that the Russian Revolution was about people as well as politics. They have become representatives of the destruction, along with the bad, of much that was good and innocent, which is probably why the restored Russian Church now venerates them as martyrs.

Helen Rappaport combines thorough research with an unsentimental humanity that presents the girls as real people: appealing, flawed, unbearably sad. A definitive biography and a well-told story.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragic History of Four Short Lives, 9 April 2014
This review is from: Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses (Hardcover)
I absolutely loved this book. Of course most people must know at least the bare bones of the tragic story of Tsar Nicholas II who, together with his beautiful wife Alexandra, his son the haemophiliac prince and his four lovely young sisters, was murdered in cold blood in a cellar in Ekaterinberg in 1917. Books have been written and films have been made, and speculation has run wild at times as people suggested that not all the Romanov princesses had died on that terrible day. DNA evidence has proved to the contrary, so we now know for a fact that Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia all shared the fate of their parents and brother.
So you might wonder why we need another book. Well, for a start, the story of the lives of these young women has always been overshadowed by the tragic illness of their young brother, the attempts made by the family to find a cure, the involvement of the strange, powerful figure of Rasputin, and more besides. So a book that puts the girls at centre stage must be welcome, especially as in doing so it illuminates the strangeness of the lives they were forced to live. Nicholas and Alexandria were not suited to the roles they were forced to play -- Nicholas longed for nothing more than the life of a gentleman farmer, perhaps even in England. So their desire for a simple life filtered naturally into the way they brought up their daughters, who took cold baths every morning and slept on hard cot beds without pillows. But if their parents believed that this would make them more like "real people", they were quite wrong. The girls were intensely curious about the outside world, but had no idea how to live in it -- an expedition to the shops once led to an embarrassing situation when they discovered they had not idea how to buy anything or indeed what exactly money was.
A turning point for them came through an unexpected source, when Russia found itself at war, and Alexandra and her older daughters became nurses for the wounded. In many ways this was a fulfilling time for them, though it also resulted in some intense, if unconsummated, love affairs for Olga and Tatiana, who could never marry the handsome young officers they fell in love with.
The personalities of the four girls, and the events of their tragically foreshortened lives, emerge clearly here, through their own letters and diaries and the reminiscences of those who knew them.
Helen Rappaport has the happy ability of combining scrupulous and thorough research, enough endnotes and references to satisfy the most demanding scholar, and the skill of writing a book which is a real page-turner. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helen Rappaport at her best!, 17 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses (Hardcover)
Very interesting book! My son and I have quite a few of Helen Rappaport books as we are both extremely interested in the Romanov family. This is Helen at her very best again! I would highly recommend this book to anyone,
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully Descriptive, 15 July 2014
By 
Lincs Reader (Lincolnshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses (Hardcover)
I knew very little about the Romanov Grand Duchesses, or in fact about Russian history before I read Four Sisters, so for me, this was a whole new world to enter.

Four Sisters is a history book, it's also a joint biography and I have been absolutely fascinated by this story. I don't know if it is all factually correct, I'm sure that the author has slanted the writing with her own perceptions, but nevertheless, this book is a fascinating read - well written and very easy to get lost in.

Alexandra, the Tsarina and granddaughter of Queen Victoria was always determined to create a warm and loving family for her four daughters. Her biggest mistake was to fail to take a bigger part in the life of the imperial court, and this decision alienated her from the Russian people. It was also this decision that probably sealed the fate of her and her beloved family. Alexandra's love and overwhelming passion for her family did create a family who adored each other, but also created a family who were distant from their subjects.

It is clear that Helen Rappaport is both passionate and very knowledgeable about her subject, and she has recreated the life of this family so well. The longing for a son and heir is so strong, and when finally a boy child arrives, the sense of disappointment that he is clearly not well enough to take the throne is overwhelming.

Everyday life before the revolution for these four sisters was fairly ordinary. They developed crushes on young men, they relished being part of the war, whether it was by using their nursing skills or raising money, and most of all they enjoyed being part of a loving, solid family.

There are some wonderful illustrations in this book, my hard back copy really is a joy to own. The author has used letters and diary entries to create a colourful story that I really enjoyed and has certainly sparked an interest in this part of history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Whole Story, 9 Nov 2014
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Bit heavy going, but worth keep plodding at it! Learnt a lot that I didn't know. Very well researched. Many photo's from the Princesses own photo albums.
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Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses
Four Sisters:The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses by Helen Rappaport (Hardcover - 27 Mar 2014)
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