The Russian Revolution claimed their lives; history further obscured them; but Rappaport’s archival finds shine new light on The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra.
How long have you been interested in these Romanov sisters?
I wasn’t really interested in Russian royals at all. It was the agent I was with at the time who suggested I do Romanovs. I groaned. I came back with Ekaterinburg, a book about the last 14 days of the Romanovs. The more I thought about those four girls, the more I thought—how much do we actually know about them? They have always been the pretty set to the much bigger romantic story of Nicholas and Alexandria and the hemophiliac Alexey. I wanted to tell their story. After 1991, there was a brief period when the Russians opened up the Soviet archives again. It was only in the last year or so that I felt I had enough material to tell the story properly. I just searched anywhere and everything I could think of. My premise right from the start was that I was not going to cut and paste and regurgitate the same sources that everyone’s used.
When did you become aware of the discrepancy between the public’s perception of the girls and their actual personalities?
It’s very obvious when you look at how the Russians saw the imperial family—a very formal image of all very beautiful, uncontroversial, dutiful, docile daughters. They were four very interesting, very different personalities. Once you start digging, you find that out, but you have to get back to the primary sources—the letters, diaries, and memoirs of the people who knew them—and not rely on hearsay.
Which of the girls do you most identify with?
It’s very interesting how my perception of the girls changed. I was very touched by Maria, the third daughter, who I thought was so lovely, so open, and so loving. Then for a while I really admired Olga, the eldest, because in a way she had more on her plate because she had to set the example. Of the four sisters, the one I really have come to admire is Tatiana. I feel she is still a beautiful enigma. She was very reserved, so much so that some people said she was haughty. She wasn’t at all—she was just intensely private. What I came to admire about her was her courage and her stoicism. During the war, she and Olga trained as Red Cross nurses with their mother. Tatiana was the most wonderful, gifted, devoted nurse, and I just feel so sad because in different circumstances she could’ve been a pioneer. Anastasia has been so written about that, of the four girls, she was the one who least interested me. I was not going to go near all the false claimants—they’ve had far too much publicity. The real girls are the ones we should be taking interest in. I wanted to give them back their individuality as human beings, and I hope I’ve achieved that.