Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Death of a Romanov Prince

Terry Boland is a retired Russian teacher in Australia with a deep appreciation for Romanov history.  He is correct when he writes that that "thousands of words" have been written about the Romanovs, especially Nicholas and Alexandra and their family.

Boland points out that there other members of the Imperial Family who wanted to use their wealth and privilege to help their country.  There are far more books and articles on the bad boys of the family, including Grand Dukes Boris and Andrei.

Prince Oleg Konstantinovich of Russia was only 21 years old when he was killed in action six weeks after the start of the first world war.   Boland describes Prince Oleg as a poet, a "literary genius," who was determined to do something worthy for Russia.   We do not know what his life would have been like if he had survived the war.  Three of his brothers, Ioann, Konstantin, and Igor, were thrown into a mineshaft near Alapayevsk in July 1918, along with Grand Duchess Elisabeth.  The young prince was the fifth of nine children of Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich of Russia and Princess Elisabeth of Saxe-Altenberg, a German princess who remained Lutheran after her marriage.

Boland has spent some years researching Oleg's brief life and this research had led to a new book, Death of a Romanov Prince (Eurohistory.com:$48.95).   But is Oleg's life worthy of a book?   No, not really. He may have been the most intelligent of all the Romanovs,  but his short life gets buried in this 230-page book, which really should be titled The Family of Grand Duke Konstantine Konstantinovich.

The first four chapters are about Oleg's paternal and maternal family, his eight siblings, the family's palaces and the holidays in the Crimea. Finally, in chapter 5, we get to learn about Oleg, his education, his military training, his engagement to his cousin, Princess Nadezhda Petrovna of Russia, the war, and his death and funeral.

I applaud the initiative of writing outside the Nicholas and Alexandra box, but I feel that the Boland's material would have made a far better article for Eurohistory Journal, where Oleg's life story would be the center of attention.  In this book, it is more of a case of where is Oleg?

Padding the book with terrific photographs from the Eurohistory collection enhances the overall concept of the book,  but the book is supposed to be about a Romanov prince who died in the first world war.   It is not.

This is not to say that the book is bad because it is not bad.  The writing is good and Oleg's life -- when you finally get to it -- is interesting. Death of a Romanov Prince focuses on one of the junior branches of the Imperial House of Russia, and not one prince, which is why the title is misleading.  Oleg's abbreviated life is out of focus.

The publisher and the writer should have sat down with an editor to focus on what they wanted to present.  The book is a bit disjointed in places, especially with repeated information in different chapters.

I enjoyed spending time looking at all photos -- and the photos will offer an introduction to Grand Duke Konstantin and Grand Duchess Elizabeth's extended families.   The book would have been a lot better if the text had been massaged into a more organized structure.  Oleg's life should have been the focus of the opening chapters and then include the information about the rest of the family, parents, siblings, fiancee, cousins.