Thursday, July 07, 2011
The Lost Crown
I think Sarah Miller is great. Her debut novel, Miss Spitfire, is marvelous. Whenever I get a historical fiction request, I regularly recommend this fantastic biographical novel about Anne Sullivan. Naturally, you would think that I would have flipped out once her sophomore novel was announced. Right?
It's about the Romanovs. Now, there are many people who have an interest....fascination....obsession with the assassinated Romanovs. And for a while, I shared that interest. It started when I read my grandparents' copy of Nicholas and Alexandra. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It's a sweeping and grand account; the imperial extravagance, the sickly heir, the controversial Rasputin, and the drums of impending doom. I read it in high school; after that, I read every book on the Romanovs that I could find in the library (even Anna Anderson's "autobiography"). For a few years after that, I would read whatever new books came out about the Romanovs.
Eventually, that stopped. The truly objective biography on the Romanovs has yet to be written, although there have been several excellent and thoughtful books written about them (I'll list my picks at the end of this post). I'm not sure it's possible to be objective about the Romanovs, and even more difficult to not have your viewpoint on the family come across if you're writing about them (I'm certainly trying to hide my viewpoint in this post). And after a while, there's not much more to say about a particular subject that's been chronicled to the nth degree.
And then, a gifted author writes a young adult novel about the Romanovs. Let me tell you, although I was very eager to read it, I was also a bit skeptical when I picked up this book, despite my confidence in Sarah Miller's writing ability and judgment. Just as it's easy to romanticize the Romanovs, it's equally easy to paint them (the Emperor and Empress, at least) as monsters, and I was hoping that either side wouldn't be the case in The Lost Crown.
And THEN, it turns out that it's written in first person present narrative. Not my favorite. Writing in a character's voice in the present is tricky to pull off; I find it to be quite annoying at times.
Well, I'm happy to tell you that Sarah Miller does an excellent, superb, fantastic job in creating a story that's neither apologetic nor relentlessly harsh. Of course, focusing on the defenseless Romanov daughters was a wise idea; the Tsar and Tsarina are only peripheral characters. Miller brilliantly depicts their extremely limited worldview, the gilded cages in which they live, and the suffocating lifestyle imposed on them by their parents and society before the Revolution and by their captors after the abdication. Admittedly, since the chapters are alternately narrated by the four grand duchesses, keeping their identities and voices distinct can get confusing, but this is a minor complaint. The more salacious aspects of the family's story, such as Rasputin and rumors about the Empress Alexandra, are hinted at but not exploited. The sisters' close yet claustrophobic relationships are tenderly described, and the tragedy of Aleksei, the long awaited, beloved, spoiled, and hemophiliac heir, is breathtakingly rendered. The family's violent end is shocking, even if you know what happens, and revealed without sensationalism. Appendices include further information about the family, pictures, and a list for further reading. Brava.
My picks for further reading:
Anastasia's Album-This is pretty much it for children's nonfiction material about the Romanovs.
The Flight of the Romanovs-Covers the colorful and strange fates of the exiled members of the Romanov family. Published in 1999, it covers details that The Romanovs: The Final Chapter doesn't include.
King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War-This chronicles the intertwined lives of George V (England), Wilhelm II (Germany), and Nicholas II (Russia). Fantastic read.
Nicholas and Alexandra-although several decades old, this is still one of the best.
The Romanovs: The Final Chapter-This covers the finding of several Romanov remains in 1991, and the forensic disputes that followed. Reads like a detective story. Written by the author of Nicholas and Alexandra.
Oh, and War Horse? Finished it this week as well. The ending will leave you bawling. In a good way. Read the book before the movie comes out!
Posted by Jennifer Schultz at Thursday, July 07, 2011