Matt's Reviews > The Fate of the Romanovs

The Fate of the Romanovs by Greg King
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's review
Apr 26, 2016

it was ok
bookshelves: russian-history

The recently-deceased theologian Richard John Neuhaus once wrote: "We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway."

I picked up this book because, like every other human who has walked, is walking, and will walk this earth, I am going to die. It is the greatest journey, one with no survivors. What people dismiss as morbidity is actually curiosity: what's out there, beyond this vale?

I mention this, because The Fate of the Romanovs is the story of the death of a family: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia; Empress Alexandria, his wife; and their children: Alexei, Anastasia, Tatiana, Olga, and Maria. The book is, for the most part, shorn of historical context. In the grand scheme, the death of the Romanovs is a mere footnote. By the time they died, their contribution to history was already complete. The Russo-Japanese War was over; the 1905 Revolution was over; Russia had withdrawn from World War I; a civil war between Reds and Whites had erupted; Rasputin was dead; and Nicholas had abdicated. Yet the fascination remains. It's the story of a family who once had everything - the world's largest empire - and ended in a basement, shot and bayonetted by peasants. Then there's the whole Anastasia thing. I don't believe that people are interested in the Romanovs' execution because Anastasia was reputed to survive; to the contrary, I think people wanted to believe in Anastasia because the Romanovs' fate is so incredible. We don't want to believe an entire royal family can disappear; we need to believe there was a Job, that one alone escaped to tell the story.

The Fate of the Romanovs is a micro history of sorts. The first half of the book is a moment by moment, bullet by bullet account of the execution. The historical context is broadly drawn. If you want to read all the ins and outs of what led Nicholas to his death house in Ekaterinburg, you'll do well to go somewhere else (I recommend Massey's Nicholas and Alexandra.)

I enjoyed the first half, focusing on the captivity and murders of the Romanovs. The execution itself is told in riveting detail: the family, some seated, some standing, riddled with bullets; the hemophiliac Alexei, the boy who brought down the throne, being smashed with rifle butts; bullets bouncing off Maria's chest, because her mother had sewn the royal jewels into her dress; "chubby" Anastasia shot in the head as she cowered in a corner; one of the murderers fondling the Tsarina's breasts. It is all very hideous and gripping.

Then comes the second half of the book, which was putatively about the lingering myths and legends of the Romanovs, especially the Anastasia. The book goes into the Anne Anderson and the whole Anastasia myth. This is odd, I thought. Just twenty pages before, the authors had described Anastasia being shot, gangland style, in her head. Now, for whatever reason, the authors appeared to be discrediting their own account, which was based largely on the so-called Yurovsky Memoirs. It got more shocking. Apparently, the authors don't believe Anastasia was killed in that basement (despite describing a scene in which 1. she was killed; and 2. no one could have escaped). They base this on the fact that little Anastasia was not found buried with the other family members, nor in the area.

Long story short, I got duped into reading a crazy Anastasia-is-alive book. Which is bunk. The authors completely discount the Yurovsky Memoir, in which Yurovksy said two of the children were buried some distance away. Guess what? Last year, he was proven right.

Anastasia died that day, along with three sisters, a brother, and her mom and dad. Now she can rest in peace. And you don't have to read this book (though you might want to read the first half, just for its grim detail, which is a superior retelling than Massey in Nicholas and Alexandria and The Romanovs:The Final Chapter).
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04/26 marked as: read

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message 1: by Josh (last edited Jun 09, 2013 03:45PM) (new)

Josh I've long been curious about how various users of Goodreads interpret the program's built-in five star rating. Do you view this book, with your 2-star book review, in a slightly negative and less than average perspective? Or, do you see a 2-star rating -- as the program seems to -- as just "ok?"

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