Romanov Day and приветствия и спасибо (with any luck that's greetings and thanks) to Helen Rappaport who will be our guest in comments throughout the day. Sparing no expense I have also brought in outside caterers.
Cornflower is very kindly providing us with Russian-themed refreshments, isn't that brilliant? So you can all nip over there when you get peckish and my grateful thanks to Karen for taking up the eleventh hour challenge.
But now to Ekaterinburg and firstly we'd better brush up the pronounciation as we'll have a Russian speaker in our midst,
I knew from reading No Place for Ladies The Untold Story of Women in the Crimean War that Helen writes my sort of history books; eminently readable but still fastidiously researched, no compromising on scholarly or evidence-based investigation and one look at the references confirms this.
Helen travelled to Ekaterinburg whilst researching the book and it shows.There is a very powerful sense that you are reading the words of someone who is witnessing the sights and sounds of the place first hand, is returning to primary sources and conjuring up the atmosphere with an accomplished writer's eye.
The trouble with reading any book about the Romanovs is the sure and certain knowledge of how it will end, yet despite this the book feels fresh and spell-binding.The background fascinated me as Helen set out the geographical location and the political turmoil surrounding the final imprisonment of the Romanovs in the Ipatiev House of Special Purpose. The suffocatingly claustrophobic Ekaterinburg July heat will send you off to fling open your windows in a way that the family were forbidden to do. But what made this book most special for me were the beautifully detailed character studies of each member of the family.
Tsar Nicholas, the man never equipped to lead his country, inadequate in authority, happiest when pottering around at his country estate Tsarskoe Selo, and married to the beautiful but domineering Tsaritsa Alexandra. Alix, Queen Victoria's granddaughter, largely misunderstood by the Russian people and the carrier of the haemophilia gene that would blight the family's life, her body wrecked and wracked with pain after giving birth to five large babies.
The four stunningly beautiful and serene-looking daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia who have lived a life trapped within the parameters of their mother's continual poor health, yearning for her attention, seeking constantly to win her approbation, serving and helping her wherever they could and all in the shadow of the much-wanted youngest son, the Tsarevitch Alexey and his debilitating illness.
Who can know the agonising pain of the Tsarina's medical conditions mitigated to some extent by regular and strong pain-killers and then we can only begin to imagine the excruciating agony endured by Alexey without them. Denied morphine presumably for fear of addiction, Alexey at every exacerbation of his haemophilia suffering swollen bleeding joints for weeks and months on end and no pain relief.
Yet no hint of jealousy emerges, this was a loving and devoted family and for that I was grateful as I read Helen's day by day account as their fate drew near. In their final days, hours and moments they would only have each other and a sickening feeling started to rise in my throat as July 17th 1918 approached.
The trouble was I liked the family in a way that no book about them had ever made me feel before. It became impossible to remain detached, I warmed to them all, felt I knew them, sensed I was in the Ipatiev House alongside them.
For all Nicholas and Alexandra's faults they were good parents and by the time I approached the final pages I did indeed want to cover my eyes and ears in order not to witness what I knew must happen, but by this stage I also knew I had to see it through with them.
It's truly gut-wrenching but utterly compelling reading and you desperately don't want it to happen; if ever there was a moment when you'd like history to be rewritten it's on page 184 of Ekaterinburg. The full horror when the family are gathered together as if to have their picture taken is writ large on the page. I could feel and smell the fear, it was tangible and the whole episode so movingly written I was choking back the tears and had to go out for a walk when I'd read it.
In the end Helen left me with the heady scent of the lilies which flower each year at the family's burial site (with grateful thanks to Helen for this photograph) and I closed this book with an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. I railed against the circumstances, the ineptitudes, the brutality and the humiliations meted out everywhere along the way and nothing convinced me that anyone, no matter the misdemeanour, could ever be deserving of the awful fate that befell the Romanovs.