Jun 25, 08
Russophiles and history enthusiasts
Read in June, 2008
Reading "Nicholas and Alexandra" was like watching a train wreck in progress... you knew where it was going, you knew how it had to end, yet you continued to stare, fascinated and horrified, hoping against hope that things might turn out differently, but of course they didn't. Massie's account is decidedly sympathetic to the Tsar and Tsaritsa, but their memories have been so dragged through the mud of history that I think it's only fair that they should have someone come down so emphatically on their side.
Fascinating historical account of the life and death of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, and his wife Alexandra Federovna and their children, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and the Tsarevich Alexei. The book opens with a description of life in Imperial Russia and quickly moves on to discuss the Tsarevich Nicholas's youth and marriage to Princess Alix of Hesse, who later became Alexandra Federovna, and his ascension to become "Tsar and Autocrat of all the Russias." The deck was stacked against "Nicky" and "Alix" right from the beginning - both were shy and unready to become rulers. Nicholas was overwhelmed by his role as Tsar and unable to take a stand against his forceful uncles and his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who exerted too much control over him in the beginning of his reign, while Alexandra, being very serious and reticent, was immensely unpopular in frivolous Russian society. Being German, she became even more unpopular when World War I broke out - although she considered herself a loyal Russian, she was dogged by rumors of treason and secret sympathy for the German cause. Alexandra didn't much care what society thought of her - although she was devastated, at the end, to realize how much the Russian peasants, who she always believed loyal, had been goaded to hate her - because she was much more occupied with a serious family concern: her son, the heir to the throne, was a hemophiliac in a time when most boys with his condition didn't live past childhood. Worried about his future, frustrated by the medical community's inability to cure him, and devastated by having to helplessly stand by and watch her child in excruciating pain, Alexandra turned to religion and through it to Rasputin the monk. Rasputin was able to bring relief to Alexei when no one else could - Massie suggests that he worked through a powerful hypnotic influence to calm Alexei, explaining that hemophiliac episodes often abate when the patient relaxes - and so won the unquestioning devotion of Alexandra, who refused to hear anything negative said about him even as, away from her eyes, he caroused in a disgustingly lewd fashion and won himself hundreds of enemies. Rasputin used his influence with Alexandra to begin exerting more and more control over Russian policy, particularly when Nicholas left to take charge of the troops at the front. Under Alexandra's stumbling adherence to Rasputin's recommendations, the government crumbled, paving the way for Lenin to introduce his particularly bloodthirsty brand of Communism. As Alexander Kerensky, a Russian revolutionary turned Minister during the tumultuous days of upheaval, later wrote, "If there had been no Rasputin, there could be no Lenin." Nicholas abdicated; soon after, he and his family were imprisoned and ultimately brutally murdered.
I've been interested in the Romanov story for quite some time and this book was a fantastic, thorough retelling of the family's saga, and through it, Russia's saga. Thanks to a rather... unconventional... teacher I had for A.P. European History, I never fully understood the fall of Imperial Russia, but I did know that Rasputin was extremely lascivious and difficult to kill. Thanks to Massie, I now have a much more comprehensive understanding of what happened - the most logical version of what happened, that is. I'm looking forward to reading his new(ish) book with its updates on the finding of most of the Romanov remains, and to following the coverage in the news now that the final two bodies have been located and identified.