Monday, March 16, 2015

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming is a look at the tumultuous years leading up to the Russian Revolution.

During the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, the rich grew richer, the poor grew poorer, and the government grew out of control as the leaders lost touch with the realities of life for the average Russian peasant or worker. Unprepared to lead a country, Nicholas listened to bad advice, took drastic action that exacerbated the problems the country faced, and failed to act when action was needed. As the government was overthrown, and then overthrown again, Nicholas and his family suffered the fatal effects of these decisions.

I've read a fair bit about the Russian revolution, so most of the major details of this story were familiar to me. Fleming has done a great job of researching and organizing her facts, including primary source accounts from common people as well as the nobility. However, I felt that she was not sympathetic to the subjects of this book, the Romanov family themselves. (In a speech accepting the nomination of this book as a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist, she admitted that she initially intended to write just about Anastasia, but found her "boring" the more she researched her.) I feel that a biographer, even of such flawed subjects as the Romanovs, should find something to like in her subject matter. On the other hand, this book is almost compulsively readable, hard to put down even if you know what is coming. (I did, and I still kept reading right up until bedtime, with the result that I had nightmares about the House of Special Purpose, as I knew I would.) And despite the dark portrait she paints of the Romanovs, she does not give the impression that what followed for Russia was an improvement. I think this is a good introduction to the Romanov family and the Russian revolution for readers unfamiliar with the topic, but would recommend looking at other sources as well if you find this period interesting.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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