The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

Originally published on July 10, 2014. 

3/5 stars.
ebook, ARC, 512 pages.
Read from May 16 to June 15, 2014.

A big thanks to Netgalley for an ARC copy of his book.

Ever since grade 12 social studies and the animated movie Anastasia, the Romanov family has fascinated me. What makes this book unique and better than most historical non-fiction, is that it read more like a fiction. This book made the Romanov family real, made them look like a regular loving family which is not the portrayal history gives them. Nicholas is by far more remembered for events like Bloody Sunday than he is as being a supportive husband and father and dedicated family man. Alexandra is remembered for being sickly and outwardly cold toward the press when really she spent so much of her time and energy helping others and being a dedicated mother to her family despite what was expected of her in terms of being royalty. The family was brought together by love, as Alexandra and Nicholas truly loved each other and married for love and their children were well-rounded examples of their love and dedication to their family.

The Romanov’s were executed in Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918 at the peak of Russia’s first revolution, also know as the February Revolution. Russia was suffering economically and socially which was made worse by the outbreak of WWI.

While the book is titled, the Romanov Sisters, it ultimately talks about the whole family. The Romanov’s were the celebrities of the 1900’s and everyone talked about them. The Romanov’s had four girls: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. Olga was the oldest, being 23 when she was executed, Tatiana, second oldest at 21, Maria 19, and Anastasia at 17.

This book captures the finer details of the girls personalities and intelligence. Olga was known for her religious piety, beauty and for being the most like her mother in personality, while Tatiana was known the most for her beauty out of all her sisters but was also a leader and took charge when her older sister was unwell. Both girls were highly desirable for marriage but their parents insisted they married for love. They both died unmarried.  As the two of them were closer in age, they became a very close pair. Maria, was more broader built than her sisters but had a notoriously good nature and was very close to Anastasia. Anastasia, was known for her voracity, energy and charm. She was a bit of troublemaker but she had an amazing sense of humour and often made her family laugh.

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All four of the girls can be described as amazingly down to earth. They loved to get dirty and play as children. Their parents did not lavish them with expensive accessories, toys or furniture. The girls were polite, kind and well-rounded. I was surprised to learn that when the war broke out, all of the girls volunteered and trained as nurses to heal wounded Russian soldiers and spent the majority of their time in the hospital. Especially Olga and Tatiana. The did not want to be treated like royalty during these times and enjoyed connecting and talking with the soldiers. Even dreamed of falling in love with them.  Another interesting fact about the girls, is that at one point, the girls all came down with measles, in which the medication they were given at the time caused their hair to thin and fall out. They all shaved their heads. The girls were so good-natured that it didn’t appear to overly bother them and quickly gave up wearing scarves to cover their bald heads.They were amazing role models and broke the mold of what it was be a Russian Princess. All of the girls were extremely well liked.

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Having five children took its toll on Alexandra, especially the pressure when she didn’t produce a male heir, Alexei, until her fifth and final birth. Alexandra was not your typical Tsaritsa as she wanted to be personally involved in the upbringing of her children. She breastfeed them and raised them, which was unheard of for a royal family member. Unfortunately, Alexei had inherited a medical condition from Alexandra’s family, hemophilia. This condition inhibits the body from clotting blood and so any minor bump, bruise or scratch and cause debilitating and life threatening internal bleeding. So Alexandra’s worry was never-ending. She was overprotective of her only son and it took a big toll on her own health, in which she would have to rely on her eldest daughter, Olga to look after him when she was unable to. This is also how the family because close with the notorious Rasputin.

Both Nicholas and Alexandra were very religious and passed their faith onto their children. Rasputin was a religious mystic with a mixed reputation. Alexandra became desperate when Alexei experienced a major stint of painful internal bleeding in which, the doctor’s could offer no assistance. The world at the time did not know of Alexei’s condition and she was desperate to save her son. Rasputin was called in, he prayed and declared that the boy would live, which he did. There were many instances like this which caused the Romanov family to rely heavily on Rasputin for Alexei’s care. There were absolutely convinced that Rasputin was the only man capable. Alexandra especially believed that her son’s health and fate were tied to Rasputin’s religious gifts and would trust no one else’s advice, even if it was rumoured that Rasputin was not a good man out in his normal life.  It was this relationship that started rumours about how much influence Rasputin had with the Romanov family. Strangely enough, Rasputin warned Nicholas of WWI, and begged him not to become involved as he believe that it would bring about their demise, which he was right about.

Nicholas’ abdication of his throne was done largely for his family and to protect his son. Unfortunately this decision also ended up being his families demise as they were placed under house arrest by the Provisional Government. The family kept hope and tried to live life as normally as they could.  The intentions were to protect the family from the rising revolutionaries but it quickly turned to wanting to put the Tsar on trial and then the whole family to death to ensure that revolution continued and that a support rally was not gathered.

This book opened up how tragic the death of this family truly was. The children’s young lives ended so early when they had done no wrong, and parent’s that were doing the best they could while also trying to manage and run a country. The book was highly engaging and very interesting read and I highly recommend it to lovers of history for those intrigued by the Romanov family.

Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War by Che Guevara

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Read from February 07 to 16, 2015.

I picked up this gem while I was actually in Cuba back in January of this year. It was my first trip to Cuba and I realized how little I knew about this fascinating little country with its big and expansive history. Thankfully there wasn’t a shortage of propaganda where I was staying. If I had more money and space in my suitcase I would have purchased quite a few more books.

Che is a remarkable individual and his dedication to Cuba and to the cause of communism is almost next to nothing. Che comes across as extremely intelligent and very articulate. His memoirs and diaries are published everywhere which probably makes him one of the most exposed politicians around. Don’t get me wrong, the Cuban government is pretty good at giving the leaders of their communist revolution a great reputation, and they have to. The history of Cuba is a rocky one, so the insurgence of this particular revolution was necessary for its time. From the Spanish to the British, and then the US, someone else was always taking advantage of Cuba and its people suffered for it. In 1933, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista threw a coup to overthrow Gerado Machado, a Cuban dictator known for his vicious rule. Sadly, after this coup, little changed under Batista’s rule. It was in 1953 when Fidel Castro made his  first attempt to revolt against Batista’s regime. It would be after this attack that a young Argentinian doctor named Ernesto Guevara would join the cause and assist in Cuba’s revolution and liberation.

“Che” is a form of colloquial Argentinian Spanish slang used in a vocative sense as “friend”. Che is the famous nickname given to Ernesto as a joke and term of endearment based on his heritage from his fellow Cuban comrades.

This book is a personal description of Che’s experiences during this pivotal revolution. Che spares no details with how difficult it was living in the forest for months at time and the sad deaths and sacrifices endured by all, especially the peasants of Cuba, who were initially afraid to assist or join the cause. His recollection is impressive as he remembers many of the names of some of the small time peasants who were essential in helping with the revolution that might have other wise been forgotten. He also details the specifics of those who betrayed the cause. Some he speaks of with remorse or honor and others with absolute distaste and resentment. It was exciting to see how big the small group of rebels became over such a short period of time . In 1959 the rebels send a group of 9000 strong into Havana, forcing Batista to flee, starting the beginning of a new era for Cuba, one that would bring positive change to the country and the lives of its people for the better.

From my own impressions of Cuba, some aspects of communism are no longer serving its people. Don’t read me wrong, I’m not saying that they need to replace their system with American capitalism but there are definitely areas that need improvement. The locals don’t have immediate access to some of the best food or clothes because they are too expensive and some people are still not allowed to leave specific regions of Cuba. Tourists get the best of everything, while they don’t. I was asked twice, discreetly, while I was there if I had any clothes or items that I was willing to part with. It made me pretty sad but if I wasn’t there as a tourist their economy and the people there would have even less. With tensions currently being mended between America and Cuba, as much as I don’t want this quaint country to become Americanized, it will eventually mean improvements for the locals.

Overall, a good description of the events and people that changed Cuba to make it the country that it is today.