Nothing was going to prepare us for the Romanovs and Helen Rappaport, not even reading the book, because when an actress who is also a writer, academic and Russianist takes the stage to talk about her favourite subject there are treats in store.
The Barn Theatre was packed and Helen delivered a wonderful account of the origins of her love for all things Russian and the evolution of her latest book Ekaterinburg. The Romanov sources were there, diaries, letters, testimonies and witnesses and once Helen had identified her route into this much-written about subject it became clear that she was onto a new and exciting approach, one she described as ever-increasing circles. Beginning with the last fourteen days in the life of the family and allowing the circles to spread from the Ipatiev House onwards and outwards to Russia on the brink of a catastrophic civil war.Silent black and white film footage of the house itself gave us a valuable and memorable visual reference.
Discovering the background to a book like this had the audience entranced as Helen elaborated on her search for the essence of the Romanovs as she travelled to Ekaterinburg to do her research. Walking the town, visiting the site and finally the scent of the lilies on the eve of the anniversary of the massacre, followed by the all-night vigil and the Orthodox litany at the Church on the Blood, built on the site of the now demolished Ipatiev House.
The applause at the end was lengthy and utterly deserved. It was all very moving and the Bookgroup Babes and I were enjoying ourselves immensely.We'd held up well considering we all found the book so emotional, then alas we were undone as Helen ended with this 90th anniversary tribute made by a Romanov research student and, as of one, we all emerged sniffling and sobbing. After her signing the introductions were made and I've sent Helen off in the capable hands of the Babes and by now they will all be tucked up in sun-dappled corner discussing Russia to their heart's content.
It's been a two hankie day so far, will Julia Blackburn make it three?