Friday, January 20, 2012

The Revolter and the Princess - The Romanov Bride

Title: The Romanov Bride
Author: Robert Alexander
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0-670-01881-9
Pages: 306

Most people have heard of Anastasia, and her famous parents Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra, but the Romanov family was large and Alexandra's sister, Elizabeth, had married into the Imperial Family and suffered a similar fate as the rest of the family. This book is Elizabeth's story from just before the first Russian Revolution to the sweep of the Revolution of 1917. However, this story has a twist. It is told through two different view points – Elizabeth and her executioner, Pavel.

Born into a life a privilege and royalty, as the granddaughter of Queen Victioria, in the house German house of Hesse, Elizabeth's life tended to be scheduled and controlled first by her father and then by her husband. She married Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, the uncle of Tsar Nicholas, and was surrounded by the wealth and grandeur of Russian Imperialism. However, through the death of Sergie, she was able to forge a life of her own, by selling her properties and jewels to found the Mary and Martha convent with a mission to minister to the poor and sick. As abbess, her faith and trust in her religious calling allowed her to overcome the distrust of the common people, the envy of detractors, and the political maneuvering of the revolution. Even her execution, ordered by Lenin, was carried out in secret – as a remaining member of the Romanov family, and beloved by her community, she was a threat.

Pavel's story begins in the country-side as a peasant, doomed to a hard and short life. With hopes of better jobs, he takes his new bride to the city. However, poor and uneducated, they has few opportunities, and when a local priest begins a petition to see the Tsar, Pavel and his wife are caught up in the early stages of the Russian Revolution. When the peaceful peasants march on the Tsar's palace, the soldiers gun them down, including Pavel's wife. Thus begins his journey of revenge and life of killing. However, his various encounters with Elizabeth, as both the Grand Duchess and a nun, makes him regret some of his actions. In the end, Pavel himself is executed by the very revolutionaries he supported, but found comfort in forgiveness given by both Elizabeth and a follow condemned priest.

At first, I struggled to get into the book. The switch between narrators was distracting, and at first, I couldn't identify with either person. Pavel was to pig-headed and Elizabeth to vain. However, both characters become more fully developed and I found myself really caring about them. Elizabeth becomes a Mother Theresa, and Pavel becomes the thief on the cross. Having taught the Russian Revolution for high school history, through the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) from University of Cambridge, I had a pretty good handle on the facts of the revolution, but this book really humanized it for me.
The author provides a website for the book, including a book guide and multimedia of his book tour and documentary and photos of Elizabeth. After reading, I wondered how much was fiction or real, and did a little Internet trolling myself. The author used public documents, such as letters and diaries, to create the story of Elizabeth.

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