Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

Candace Fleming
For ages 12 and up
Random House, 2014   ISBN: 978-0375867828

For hundreds of years the Romanovs ruled Russia with an iron hand. By the time Nicholas II reluctantly came to the throne in 1894, the Russian aristocracy, a small percentage of the population, held most of the country’s wealth in their soft hands. These privileged few, including the Tsar and his family, had no idea what the life of a typical peasant or factory worker was like. Many of the aristocrats did not care that millions of Russians lived in abject poverty, and that these millions, though no longer serfs, had few if any opportunities to improve the quality of their lives.

   For centuries most Russians had starved and suffered while the royal family and the aristocrats enjoyed unimaginable luxuries, even by today’s standards. Strong willed Tsars managed to maintain this state of affairs, but Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra were both ill-suited to being rulers. Both preferred a quiet and private life, and therefore they did not hear the rumbles of discontent, and even when they did, they did not understand what they were hearing. The royal couple and their children chose to live in the country and they had little connection with the people. Their lives were charmed and they had no idea what it was like to have to work for a living. So cut off from the world were they that they could not understand that the status quo could not continue. Change had to be allowed to happen if the monarchy was to survive.

   Part of their weakness came about because they truly believed that they were chosen by God to be the rulers of Russia. Since God had appointed them, they and they alone should decide how the country should be managed, and the people could have no say in the government. Nicholas and Alexandra believed that the people were ignorant peasants and workers whose opinions had little worth. How could such people dictate to them, the tsar and tsarina who ruled by divine right?

      Alexandra made an already bad situation even worse when she insisted on allowing a mystic called Rasputin to advise her. It was bad enough when he was using her favor to get what he wanted, but when Rasputin began to tell her how to rule the country in her husband’s absence, the populace truly grew to hate Alexandra.

   The outbreak of World War I brought the already fragile state of affairs to a dangerous point. The soldiers did not have enough to eat, they were not properly clothed, and they were sent into battle without weapons. How could they be expected to protect the country if they were not given guns and bullets? As was his wont, Nicholas refused to listen to advice, and he also refused to see that soon the country would explode into revolution. Only when it was too late did he finally appreciate the fact that Imperial Russia was finished.

   In this beautifully written book Candace Fleming tells the story of the end of the Romanovs. In addition to the main narrative she gives her readers excerpts from the writings of people who lived in Russia during the final years of the Romanov rule. These excerpts help us to better understand what it was like to live through that time. Though the way in which the members of the royal family were killed was truly appalling, we can see why it came about. Would that we could learn from the mistakes that the Romanovs made. If only we could make the choice to see the ugly writing on the wall before it is too late.