Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Anastasia and Her Sisters

Anastasia and Her Sisters

Carolyn Meyer
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2015   ISBN: 978-1481403269

Anastasia’s father is the Tsar of all the Russias. He is a man who has untold riches at his disposal, and great power over the lives of millions of people, and yet his children do not have the kind of life that you would expect royal children to have. Though they live mostly in a palace that has a hundred rooms, the four grand duchesses share two bedrooms and sleep on simple camp beds. Most days, at teatime, all they have is tea with bread and butter. The girls have their simple clothes chosen for them, and their days are regimented. They do not get to attend parties and other festive events very often, nor are they allowed to spend time with young people their own ages.

At the other end of the spectrum the princesses get to do things that normal people can only dream of. They move from palace to palace, travel in a private train, and have not one but two yachts at their disposal. People bow and curtsey when they enter a room, and they are treated with great deference.

The grand duchess Anastasia and her sisters Olga, Tatiana, and Marie rarely have time to call their own. They are guarded, watched, and fussed over. They do not really have anyone that they can talk to about their private fears, hopes, and dreams. All four Romanov daughters have diaries that they have to write in every day. These official diaries are dull and not in the least personal. In 1911, when she is ten years old, Anastasia discovers that her eldest sister, Olga, is keeping a private diary. Though Anastasia knows that she should not read such a private document, she does so anyway.  Anastasia finds out that Olga is smitten by a young Lieutenant called Pavel. Olga knows that she and Pavel will never be allowed to marry, but she cannot help feeling as she does about him.

The months go by and the family moves from palace to palace as usual. Little Alexie, who has hemophilia, hurts himself several times and everyone suffers as he suffers. The only person who seems to be able to bring the little tsarevich relief is the tsarina’s special friend, a holy man called Father Grigory Rasputin. The man is uncouth, unwashed, and many people dislike him, but the tsarina thinks the world of him and believes in him “completely.” Dealing with Alexei’s illness is made that much harder because it has to be kept secret. No one can know that the heir to the Russian throne is chronically ill.

Living in her closed, strict, and privileged little environment, Anastasia has no real idea of what is going on in the outside world. She knows that her father, who believes that he is the tsar because it is “God’s will” that he is the ruler, is angry that he has been forced to create the Duma, an elected assembly. She hears people talk about strikes and discontented peasants, but does not really understand what these things mean. She does not appreciate how hated Rasputin is, and how much the tsarina is disliked because she supports Rasputin so absolutely. It is only when Olga mentions her fears in her private diary that “something terrible is going to happen,” that Anastasia begins to think about her mother, Rasputin, and the instability in the country that seems to be growing.

When Austria declares war on Russia, popular support for the tsar increases and Anastasia is delighted to see her father’s return to favor. Unfortunately, this does not last. As the war drags on, as soldiers die in their thousands, and as food and other necessities become harder to come by, the Romanovs are blamed for all the problems. What makes matters worse is the fact that the tsarina, while her husband is away overseeing the war, is taking advice from Rasputin, which she then passes on to the tsar. Indeed she is quite insistent that he follow the advice that she conveys to him. People at all levels of Russian society are furious that their tsar is allowing himself to be led by his wife and an immoral priest who is despised by almost everyone.

What is special about this remarkable story is that the author makes it possible for us to get to know Anastasia. We quickly discover that she is the mischievous sister, the one who likes to have fun and who is most likely to do things that are perhaps not appropriate considering who she is. We see through her eyes how sheltered she and her siblings are, and how little they understand about their country and the problems that it has. We watch as Anastasia grows up from a girl into a young woman, and see how she matures as the years go by, and how she copes when the life she has always knows is destroyed.