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Alexandra: The Last Tsarina (2015)

Alexandra: The Last Tsarina (2015)
Rating
3.93 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0739420429 (ISBN13: 9780739420423)
languge
English
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publisher
st martin's press
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Alexandra: The Last Tsarina (2015)
Alexandra: The Last Tsarina (2015)

About book: When it comes to Russian history, my knowledge base is not so much "spotty" as it is "basically nonexistent." I read a biography of Catherine the Great last year, which was the first non-fiction Russian history book I had ever read. Alexandra: The Last Tsarina was the second, and before that my only source for information about the Romanovs came from the Royal Diaries series (the Anastasia one was really good, though) and one historic fiction book about them that I read in middle school. Add to that a National Geographic article that I read back when the Romanov remains had been found and identified, and there you have the entire breadth of my Romanov knowledge prior to reading this book. So in that sense, I appreciated this book because just about every piece of information presented was new to me, and I was glad to finally learn something real about this doomed family. As the title suggests, Alexandra is the focus of the book - it begins with her childhood when she lost her parents at a young age, then we get a bit about her education and some of her family drama (including her grandmother, Queen Victoria), and then her extended courtship with Nicholas and how she became the empress of Russia. Throughout the book, Erickson describes Nicholas's attempts to rule effectively, Alexandra's increasing unpopularity with the Russian people, the wars and growing discontent, and Alexandra's attempts to control her husband's policies (with the assistance of Rasputin, of course). It's all good information, and the story was able to keep me interested throughout - the last few chapters are especially engrossing, just because of how goddamn sad they are. You're reading about the imperial family being held under house arrest, constantly being threatened by their own guards and thinking they'll be killed any second, and then England is like, "Yeah, you guys can totally have asylum here! We're sending a ship next week!" and then the next second the English prime minister realizes that that's actually a really bad idea and that he won't send a ship to rescue the family, but no one tells them that, and then their guards are all, "We're going to Siberia now, where you'll be safe!" and you're just staring at the pages thinking oh god, oh god, oh god because you know how this story ends. So, to the uniformed eye, this seems like a really good, solid biography of a much-maligned woman.Here's the problem: Carolly Erikson is a terrible historian. One of her sources used in this book is the memoirs of Martha Mouchanov, a former lady-in-waiting of Alexandra. She provides a lot of personal details about the empress's state of mind and the inner workings of the palace, and it seems like a great primary source. Unfortunately, as other reviews have informed me, not only are Mouchanov's memoirs completely fabricated, but this was known before this book was written. So Erikson took an unreliable source and presented it as reliable, because it helped her case of presenting Alexandra as a more sympathetic figure. Similarly, Erikson will frequently make a statement about Alexandra's thought process or emotions at a certain time, with no actual evidence to back it up, and you get the sense that she's just projecting her own emotions onto Alexandra. There's no in-depth examination of why Alexandra thought that she was the most qualified person to rule Russia, Erikson merely tells us that Alexandra thought she could rule better than her husband and moves on. There's really no critical analysis of anyone here - Rasputin, clearly the most enigmatic and fascinating figure in this whole fiasco, is examined only at surface level. Was he playing a long con on Alexandra, trying to manipulate her into destroying the country? Why did he begin by refusing large gifts of money and titles and later get greedier and more demanding? Did he really believe that he was a holy man and a healer, or was he an imposter all along? And most importantly, how was he able to miraculously heal Alexei when no one else could? I realize that these questions haven't been given definite answers, but a little acknowledgement of them would have been nice. There's no definite closure to the story - it ends with the Romanov's execution (spoiler alert!) and then a stupid epilogue about Alexandra's body being properly interred in 1998. Between those two events, there's nothing: how the Romanov's bodies were disposed of and hidden, how they were discovered, who was identified and who's still missing and why, not even any information about what happened to the rest of the extended family. It felt unfinished and unsatisfying. This book shouldn't have been nonfiction. Erikson should have just admitted defeat and written a historic fiction novel about Alexandra, because that's basically what she's done anyway - even the writing feels like overwrought fiction, like this passage: "The warm June sun continued to shine down over the domes and rooftops of Moscow, but now it was a city in mourning, and the crows, bloated and sated, floated like dark wraiths in the cloudless blue sky." And this line, which was so ridiculous that it's the only passage in the entire book that I made sure to mark so I could quote it later: "A new order was coming slowly and painfully to birth, forced into the light by the harsh midwife of revolution."By the way, "Harsh Midwife of Revolution" is the name of my new metal band. We're not very good.One last thing, and then I'll put this book out of its misery: Erikson, for some god-unknown reason, insists on calling Alexandra and Nicholas "Alix" and "Nicky" throughout the book. Maybe this is acceptable among Romanov biographers, but it felt jarringly personal to me - imagine reading a Tudor biography that referred to Henry VIII as "Harry." Maybe this book would have succeeded as a historical novel, but as straightforward history, it's a disaster.

Erickson pens a passionate biography of Alexandra Romanov, the last Czarina of Russia with “Alexandra.” During her life, Alexandra was vilified by the Russian people, but Erickson’s portrayal paints a different portrait of the last Czarina – one that will surprise those who don’t know much about Russian history.The novel starts out with Alexandra, a young girl in Germany, witnessing the death of her mother, who was a daughter of Queen Victoria. After enduring several deaths in the family, Alix (her nickname) grows into a very serious, reserved young woman. While she’s an able hostess for her father, she’s never comfortable in social situations.Alix meets Nicholas Romanov at a wedding in 1884. The young couple nurture a quiet attraction. While neither family approves of the other, Nicholas’s family does allow him to marry Alix. Nicholas comes to the throne just before the marriage. Alix soon realizes she has to provide him with a firm, yet quiet strength to guide him through his accession.Nicholas’s mother does not approve of Alix and the Russian people don’t accept her. It doesn’t help that her husband has no inner strength of his own to draw on. Alix and Nicholas are a love match no one approves of. She endures years of insults and child bearing, only to offer Russia an heir to the throne who has hemophilia. Alexis, her son, could bleed to death if not treated, unfortunately, there was little the doctors could do to help him. Complicating matters and further staining herself, Alex befriends a priest, Father Gregory Rasputin, the only person who can ease her son’s pain.Alix’s life is shrouded in shadows and heartbreak. The sweet, happy moments are few and far between, even after she becomes Czarina. After the revolution, and her husband’s abdication, can she disperse the shadows before her death and find some inner peace? Erickson’s writing is crisp and sharp. She takes events from Alix’s life and humanizes them in such a way to show the complexities of her character. The opening engages the reader and begs them to keep turning the pages to learn more.The pacing is pitch perfect, slowing down when the reader needs a breath before picking back up again. Erickson reveals that Alix was a good student, fluent in several languages, and skilled in needlepoint, yet she was very shy and awkward in social outings. Indeed, the Russian people saw an awkward, uncomfortable woman with little warmth or kindness. Erickson does a masterful job of contrasting Alix’s positive and negative traits against the twilight of Imperial Russia. Alexandra’s story is full of personal highs and public lows, and Erickson tells the story as a master pianist would play Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique. Overall, “Alexandra,” is a gripping story, rich in history, and human tragedy.
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Reviews
Anna
I disliked the writing immensily, it reads too much like historical fiction and at times Erickson cites sources that have been for years known as dubious, if not completely fake, namely Marfa Mouchanow's memoirs. And apparently Erickson knew they were unreliable, and used them anyways - but of course these fabricated memoirs are where the fun and shocking comments come from... It can be amusing and it's an easy read, but absolutely not a good source for true, reliable information on the last Tsarina of Russia. I really regret spending money on it.
Marcuz Lorenanzo The 3rd III
Good book :) Very well written :)
Diana
I re-read this for extra help on an all essay question test for my Western Civilization class. I'm glad to have a chance for the re-read since it had been many years since I had originally read the book. I liked reading about the Tsarina, since most books of the time focus on the Tzar or their children. It helped me to understand why she fell so far under Rasputin's control. If you're interested in the history of the WWI era, I do suggest this book since the Tsarina was more involved in the issues of the war and the Revolution than most people think.
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