"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
I admit that if it weren't for 1997 animated film, "Anastasia" (which is NOT Disney), the Romanov family wouldn't even be on my radar. But thanks to a handful of specials that aired on the History channel around the time of the movie's release, the Russian revolution and the fall of the Romanovs is one of those historical events that I tend to take notice of.
This book offers an immersion experience unlike the (woefully inaccurate) movie or the History Channel presentations. It stays with you and haunts you in a way that something you watch on TV or in a movie just doesn't. A book requires you to allow the story to seep into your mind, requires you to spend many hours on it, and makes you a part of creating the story as it unfolds. Thus, I found this to be a rather haunting read, particularly because Fleming does such a good job of characterizing the Romanovs prior to their death, and because she details every change in circumstance during the turbulent Russian Revolution, leaving me to wonder at every turn if THIS was where it would end. Even though the subtitle gives away the ultimate outcome, it's still a surprisingly suspenseful read (and not particularly good bedtime reading, although I couldn't resist reading it in bed when I was near the end.)
Fleming's depiction of the Romanov family is very balanced -- she often quotes primary sources and does not fall into the trap of either romanticizing or villainizing them. She does make it clear how very out of touch they were with the common people's plights, at times to the extent that it seemed they did not take their jobs very seriously. She details days Nicholas spent playing cards or going for walks while riots and slaughter broke out in the city. The juxtaposition of stories from the lower classes with the examination of the Romanov family crystallizes how such resentment could build, but one can almost excuse the Romanovs for being so oblivious because they are characterized as rather naive and almost childlike.
Perhaps the most devastating part of this story is not the murders, but the fact that Russia's people continued to suffer turmoil for decades after the monarchy fell. There is no happy ending here.
Fleming seems to truly care for her subject matter and includes many places to learn and view more in the back matter. The eerie black-and-white photos also add to the overall haunting effect of the book. I do not read biographies often, but when I do, they always seem to leave me changed. This one is no exception.