Ye-ka-tyer-in-boorg. That is the only pronunciation I will be giving from a book where the unspeakable are also the unpronounceable.
I know why this book was written, what mystifies me, is why it was published?
Everyone knows the story don’t they? The Tsar and his family brutally oppressed the Russian people for centuries until they took the opportunity to fight back and do to him what he had done to them. There have been attempts to add a little mystery to this as to who was murdered and who wasn’t, but the fact remains: he (and she) who lives by the sword will (ultimately), die by the sword. However, the Tsar Nicholas II industry is nothing if not persistent, as it was only as recently as April last year that the Russian authorities announced that all of the Tsars family had been identified and accounted for. This was not good enough for the Russian OrthodoxChurch who still do not recognize the remains as being those of the Tsar and his family. Let us hope that Rappaport’s book will close the door on this imperishable saga.
Ms Rappaport has put her considerable erudition of all things Russian into this work. When 6% of a book is bibliography, can anyone doubt that the author is on top of her subject? Authors and critics of whom I have the greatest respect have been so complimentary of Rappaport’s book, I hesitate to offer my own opinion. How do you follow “…quite simply stunning …”(Alison Weir), “That perfect blend of history …”(Susan Hill). These women are not chums of Helen by any chance - are they?
To depict a moment in history of which almost everyone is aware, and make it fresh and stimulating is a difficult task and one, I regret, beyond Ms Rappaport. She has trawled through mountains of documents and studiously recorded them in separate chapters in the nature of a thesis. Even so, I tend to doubt the accuracy of some of her observations. Her scene setting benefitted perhaps from a little artistic license, and there are some factual ‘howlers’. Also distracting was her lack of sympathy for the ‘cause’. Are revolutionaries always dirty and drunk? Is she really telling us that a necrophiliacs assault on the Tsaritsa was recorded by someone as a contemporaneous note?
I applaud that she was trying an interspersion of family scenes with individual biographies. But this did not work, and was an obstacle to narrative flow.
The last days of the Romanovs is a depressing read. If Russia was as bad as Rappaport describes it, dying would have been a blessed relief. Bad things have to be recorded, but do they need to be written about ad nauseam?
Helen Rappaport is a Russian expert, and if Russian history is your thing you will find all you ever needed to know – even to the angle they wore their hats - about the last days of the Romanovs. But for the rest of us, be content that the Tsar and his family were all reburied with appropriate ceremony in Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, St.Petersburg on July 17 1998, where they were able to look down or up upon it.