You all know I love history. Usually, I prefer it as historical fiction, but this factual narrative of the last ruling dynasty of Russia is utterly compelling. Written for a fifth- to sixth-grade reader, it often uses “quotes right in the middle of its sentences” to tell the story. I found it mildly annoying at first, but it in no way interfered with the flow of the text and I soon paid them little mind. (The back matter includes an impressive collection of sources.)
I was vaguely familiar with the Romanovs and the 1917 revolution from history class, but Russian history has never been a specific study of mine. But Ms. Fleming hooked my attention immediately. She paints a portrait of regular people with faults and foibles, strengths, emotion, and a tragic disconnection from the issues of their era. She builds tremendous sympathy for the family while helping us understand the events that caused their downfall. At the same time, between chapters, she uses the written words of real people to illustrate what life was like for the lower classes.
The early 1900’s was a time of severe class distinctions. The upper 10% owned 90% of Russia’s wealth. They were extravagant in their tastes and oblivious to those less fortunate. For the masses, it meant a medieval social structure, impossible living conditions, and starvation. Still, there was a reverence and awe for the royal family. For century after century, the czar had been equivalent with Russia itself. Loyalty to the one meant loyalty to the other. Until the rumblings of discontent begin to shake the cities. Until measures of reform met with resistance by the completely out-of-touch monarch. Until the flow of blood demonstrated the czar’s hard stance.
The history of Twentieth Century Russia is one of turmoil and unrest, of instability and shifting loyalties, of a completely changing social order. We all know how Communism held that country in a death grip for sixty years. This is the story of how that all came to be. And the Romanovs play the leading role. It’s absolutely fascinating reading. Appropriate for ages 10+ and highly recommended for those who like drama, history, or biography.
(I watched Anastasia for the first time after reading this. Sigh. Disney just can’t ever seem to get their history right.)