I spent so much of this book thinking about fate. When we hear stories about ill-fated glamorous lives like the Romanovs, or Princess Diana or PhillipI spent so much of this book thinking about fate. When we hear stories about ill-fated glamorous lives like the Romanovs, or Princess Diana or Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it seems like we always become enamored with what could have been, what might have been. If only they'd lived.... we think, and then imagine how Russian history or William and Harry's lives or films might have been altered.
I can certainly understand this sort of thinking but I don't typically go down that path. Instead, I end up thinking, WHY so much focus on the lives and time that simply doesn't exist? Why so much focus on their tragic ends instead of deeply and richly appreciating the time they did spend in this world? I don't sit around philosophizing about fate or whether we all have one, or anything like that, but in these instances I find myself considering the idea of us all having a purpose and a set amount of time to exist, and that's just how it is.
In The Romanov Sisters, Rappaport takes the opportunity to introduce and help us to understand the lives and personalities of the four Romanov sisters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. She explores the insular lives they lived (cut off by society by both their birth and their mother's health/social avoidance) but also the richly intimate family life they all shared with one another, their parents, and their brother.
I've always been fascinated by the Romanovs but haven't read a whole lot about them, in part because most narratives are focused on the political and war aspects (and rightly so, obviously). I just grew up with the conspiracy theories about one of the sisters (probably Anastasia) having escaped (do you really think that those intent on assassinating the whole family would've been so careless?), learning about hemophilia because of Alexey, and their assassinations. The four sisters (other than those wishful tales about Anastasia) were pretty much identical blanks slates to me.
But in The Romanov Sisters, we learn the distinct personalities of each:
OLGA: "... was curious and full of questions. Once when a nursemaid reprimanded her for her grumpiness, saying that she had 'got out of bed on the wrong foot', the next morning Olga had pertly asked which was 'the right foot to get out with' so that the 'bad foot won't be able to make me naughty to-day'."
Olga grows up (don't forget, these sisters were all young women when they died, not children) to be simultaneously dignified but also love-puppy starved for multiple soldiers who crossed her path.
TATIANA: "...was deeply altruistic and sensitive to what others did for her. On once discovering that her nursemaid and Miss Eagar were paid for their services because they had no money of their own and needed to earn a living, she came to Eagar's bed the next morning and got in and cuddled her, saying 'Anyway, you are not paid for this.'"
Tatiana was strong, empathic, and when the war hit, clearly a born nurse.
MARIA: Considered pudgy and clumsy (at least compared to her sisters) and "was not especially bright." But she was "open-hearted and sincere" and "When she once sheepishly admitted to stealing a forbidden biscuit from a plate at teatime (her father) was relieved for he had been 'always afraid of the wings growing'. It had made him 'glad to see she is only a human child'."
ANASTASIA: Sounded like she was quite the hellion and in some ways reminds me of my own niece. "Anastasia balked at doing anything she was told; if ordered not to climb on things she did precisely that. When told not to eat apples gathered in the orchard to be baked for nursery supper she deliberately gorged herself and when reprimanded was unrepentant: 'You don't know how good that apple was that I had in the garden', she told Margaretta teasingly."
All people and all parents, no matter their status in life, have faults, but Alexandra and Nicholas at least seemed to love one another and raise their children as best they could. The decisions they made in life started first with what was best for their family. After realizing that Alexey had hemophilia and even a mild bruise could mean the end of an heir they'd tried for so many years to produce (and loved), they still gave orders that he should be allowed to play as he wanted, unless the situation looked truly dangerous. When Nicholas was contemplating abdicating, he took two primary things into consideration. He could abdicate for himself but not for his son, but that meant that his son would remain in Russia and he and his wife would be exiled and separated from at least Alexey, if not the rest of their children. He also had a "candid" conversation with Alexey's pediatrician during which he learned that Alexey might live for some time more, but likely not for long, and so he chose to abdicate for both himself and his son. However power hungry some other texts may paint Nicholas and Alexandra to be, it does seem as though love and care for their children and one another triumphed. They also very much seemed to be in a hopelessly lost damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't situation: During the war, Alexandra built numerous hospitals and she and the two older daughters spent day in and day out nursing the wounded. They were criticized for stepping down off their pedestals and neglecting to provide untouchable, shining beacons of hope when they were most needed.
This narrative is very sympathetic to the family, as well it should be because the point of this history is really to tell the story of the four sister and their family, nothing more. There is very little narrative spent on their assassination, and Rasputin is relatively auxiliary, though of course we do get a sense of how he influenced Alexandra. Those stories have been told elsewhere. In The Romanov Sisters, we are gifted a better sense of how these girls were as fascinated with the world around them as the world was with them, and how the years they did live were mostly rich with love and sunlight. ...more
I'm actually going to refrain from writing much of anything about this novel.
It just simply didn't take for me. When I was approved by Grove AtlanticI'm actually going to refrain from writing much of anything about this novel.
It just simply didn't take for me. When I was approved by Grove Atlantic to be an early reader of this novel, I was aware that the modern sections of this story are set in an "alternate present" Russia, which made me slightly nervous, but the further promises of Russian folklore and brotherly love made me certain I would like the story.
I didn't dislike it, but I also just stopped reading. It simply didn't compel me to continue. I do feel like if you're fond of alternate realities and dystopian stories (but also mixed with real political and folklore histories), you may very well appreciate The Great Glass Sea. ...more
(I'm displaying the majority of the review without spoiler masking primarily because some of the theories are pretty much already hinted at in the syn(I'm displaying the majority of the review without spoiler masking primarily because some of the theories are pretty much already hinted at in the synopsis or addressed early in the narrative, even if you know nothing when you pick up the book, as I did.... but if you don't even want to know these things, don't read further...)
So I went in knowing almost nothing; just the synopsis for the book and a couple of very brief glances at reviews. But the honest truth is that I was rooting for a theory involving some sort of supernatural force being involved in the Dyatlov Incident and although that would have been interesting, I probably would have, at the same time, found the book easier to dismiss.
But while the ultimate theory (very convincingly) presented by Eichar may not be "supernatural" - at least in the surface, shallow way we often use the word today (view spoiler)[(the theory really could be considered supernatural in these traditional definitions of the word: "of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe" or "departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature") (hide spoiler)], the conclusion is more terrifying and compelling than any thought of aliens spotlighting the tent. Really. I'm serious.
For about the last thirty percent of the book, I was so fascinated that while reading, I drove (though I did limit myself to reading while at red lights, I did pray for those looong red lights), making dinner, and a Scrabble game which the other players insisted I join but which most certainly would've been more enjoyable and civil for them if I hadn't. Without a whole lot of detailed scientific data, Eichar still manages to convincingly debunk the primary theories about the incident, even going so far as to disregard the alien attack theory while also still explaining why the probable factual experiences by other hikers/skiiers/locals (lights in the sky) which contributed to the alien theories, weren't valid in the incident.
Those things which we still don't fully scientifically understand or, for a lay person who may know nothing whatsoever about a theory, can be just as frightening and mysterious as alien interference or KGB operative forces hunting the group in the night.
If you want to experience this book the same way I did (highly recommended, if you've the ability to completely disregard the rest of your life), I definitely admonish you not to give in to the temptation to Google stuff as you read - and don't audiobook it, if one even exists, because the photographs are easily the second best argument for reading the book.
Eichar does an excellent job of making the reader care about and know the ten hikers, and an equally excellent final section of positing what their final, terrifying hours must have felt like. I, for one, am thoroughly convinced of his conclusions. And never, ever, EVER want to embark on such an expedition (view spoiler)[(because I'd also like to point out that, within this theory, we're definitely not safe now, with all of our modern times and fancy equipment, and warm gear, and scientific explanations, unless we were to follow them to the letter and NOT DO THIS expedition! (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more