Monday, February 19, 2018

New Romanov Books

If you want to write confidently and assuredly about the Romanovs, it helps to be proficient in Russian.  Seriously.  The primary sources are in Russian so it makes sense to be able to read and write the language.

Two of the modern Romanov historians are Margarita Nelipa and Helen Azar, both of whom are of Russian heritage.  Nelipa's parents were Russian-born World War II refugees who settled in Australia in 1948.  Azar was born Odessa in Ukraine.  In the 1970s, her family emigrated to the United States.  She now lives in New South Wales.

Margarita Nelipa has written a corker of a book, Killing Rasputin The Murder that Ended the Russian Empire (Wildblue Press), which takes a long and exhaustive look at the events and evidence that lead to Gregorii Rasputin's murder in December 1916.

What makes this book an excellent read is the Nelipa's gift to tell a story and peel away every layer of the story from Rasputin's early life, his introduction to the imperial family and the mesmerizing power that he had over Empress Alexandra.   It suffices to say that enraged and angered not only other members of the Imperial family, who believed that Rasputin was a dangerous influence but also politicians and religious leaders.

Nicholas II's response to the calls for action led to acts that further exacerbated his family, who were largely united in their determination to marginalize Alexandra and try to keep Nicholas on the throne.

In the end, it was all nought.  Rasputin was murdered, a death -- one of the factors -- that would bring about the end of 300 years of the Romanov dynasty.

Nelipa is a  former medical scientist.  She uses her expertise and knowledge to break down and rebuild the evidence and the facts concerning Rasputin and the who was who in the who was involved in the planning, the death, and the aftermath.

Killing Rasputin offers readers an opportunity to rethink and reexamine the myths and the legends that rose up after Rasputin's death.  This is not a biography of Rasputin, but a literary forensic exercise that answers some questions but brings forth new questions, as well.


Helen Azar is the author-cum-editor of 1913 Diary of Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna (Create Space).  The third of the four daughters of Nicholas II,  Maria, who celebrated her 14th birthday in June 1913,  wrote as a teenager with no real historical perspective.

The diary is in itself a historical record, but if you are looking for Maria's thoughts on her parents, her siblings, even her views of the world around her, you won't find it here in her 1913 diary.

Maria had lessons,  she had tea with her family. She went to church.  She prayed.  Breakfast on the couch with her mother.  Lessons.  Sledding in the winter.  Swimming in the summer.

I wish Azar had provided more detailed footnotes, which, I feel, would have fleshed out the diary, with more background information about the names mentioned by Maria.  I would have culled information from other biographies, diaries, newspapers account on the events of the day. 

We don't get to know what Maria ate at breakfast or what she talked about at dinner with Anastasia and Alexei.  The diary is more I did this or did that. I went here with Papa or had tea with Aunt Olga.  But what is missing from this diary is emotion.  We do know that the Nicholas' children led a largely regimented life, but Maria does not let us know how she felt about herself, her family or even the celebrations of the 300th anniversary.

This is not the fault of the editor, but of the Grand Duchess herself.  We read the entries, but we never get to meet Maria.