Daughter of the Last Tsar, Diaries and Letters, 1913-1918
245 pages. 12 pages of black-and-white photos. Preface, acknowledgements, biographical sketch, list of books, bibliography, index.
On a personal note: When I was in sixth grade, I was thirsty for anything I could read about history. My father handed me a copy of Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie, the 640-page non-fiction book about the doomed last rulers of the Russian Empire. He probably didn't think I could read the whole thing, but I did. And since then, I've had an interest in the Romanovs of Russia.
This book is a translation of diaries kept by Tatiana Romanov, the second child of Nicholas II and Alexandra. The entries begin on 1 January 1913 (when she was fifteen) and continue (with a few gaps) until October 1916 (when her father abdicated). Letters to and from Tatiana have also been included, some of which were copied into her diary, and which add coverage until May 1918. (The family was executed in July 1918.)
What adds extraordinary value to this translation is that extensive footnotes have been provided, explaining who most of the people are who are mentioned, and adding brief historical, cultural and religious notes.
The editors have also inserted occasional text from other memoirs, allowing the reader to see Tatiana from another perspective and to gain additional background information.
The Romanovs as a family were dedicated diarists, and would occasionally share what they had previously written in family gatherings. Tatiana's entries chronicle her daily activities, so we find out where she went, who she met, and what she did on a daily basis. She seldom wrote down her opinions or feelings. Except for rare formal occasions, her world was her family, her studies, attending church services, and her 'work' (which she does not explain, but apparently was sewing).
With the advent of the First World War, Empress Alexandra and her two oldest daughters trained as nurses, and served in an infirmary for wounded soldiers (mostly officers) set up within the royal grounds. By all accounts, Tatiana excelled as a surgical nurse, and in caring for her patients (whom she often recorded by name).
Tatiana rarely records events from the war, and never mentions Russian politics. Rasputin is mentioned as being present on several occasions with the family, but she makes no comment about him. Her entries when Rasputin's murder is discovered are brief but reflect the family's shock, not only at the murder but that Russian nobility were responsible; the editors point out that those family members were never again mentioned by name within the family.
The diary ends abruptly a few days before her father's abdication. This begins her imprisonment, at first on the royal grounds and later in Siberia. While she no longer wrote in her diary, she did keep copies of letters she wrote, and so we get a picture of a family maintaining their dignity in desperate circumstances.
And then there is no more, as the family has been executed.
Readers should have some knowledge of the period before reading this book, as the diary does not explain Russian politics, religion, or WWI.
The diary also provides information about how the Russian Empire handled hospital services for the soldiers. In a nutshell, the upper classes were expected to provide medical services as a charitable act, from medical trains to opening up portions of their homes as hospitals. Tatiana presided over a national committee to provide for refugees (in apparently a figurehead role), and with her mother and sisters would often go on inspection tours of medical facilities and donations in warehouses.
This is not an easily read book, as many of the entries are rather dry, and it is hard to keep track of the extended members of the royal family. Tatiana comes across as a very serious young woman who is conscious of her royal duties, with strong feelings toward her family members. I was amazed to see her transition, seemingly effortlessly, into her wartime role as nurse. The murder of such an innocent, virtuous young lady at the hands of the Bolsheviks is reprehensible.
Note that this book is available with several different cover designs, some using different portraits of Tatiana.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .