Sunday, September 12, 2010
Written by: Hugh Brewster
Recommended Ages: 10 and up
When I was around ten years old, I became fascinated by the story of the Romanov family. I read everything I could about that particular time in Russian history, and was especially intrigued with the youngest daughter Anastasia. For at the time there was a woman living in Canada who claimed that she was Anastasia, and to my ten-year-old imagination it was the perfect ending to the otherwise tragic story of the Romanovs. Anastasia's Album is a great introduction to the story of Nicholas, Alexandra and the entire Romanov family.
Anastasia's Album is designed to look like a scrapbook, and is, in fact, filled with actual photographs taken by different members of the royal family, but most especially Anastasia. These photos and other personal effects were long hidden in Soviet archives. The book opens with the birth of Anastasia, the fourth daughter of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra. While disappointed at first that she wasn't a boy (they needed a male heir), she quickly warms her way into their hearts. There are marvelous pictures of her and her sisters in all manner of clothes such as sailor suits, old-fashioned striped bathing suits and of course dressier fare. Three years later, her brother Alexei is born, and the family is complete.
Besides the photographs, which are very clear and remarkably preserved, there are narratives from actual letters Anastasia and other members of her family and friends wrote. For instance, the children's French tutor wrote in regards to Anastasia:
"She was the imp of the whole house and the glummest faces would always brighten in her presence, for it was impossible to resist her jokes and nonsense."
The text by Hugh Brewster is clear and does a very nice job articulating the Romanov children's lives. Yes, it was privileged. They lived in a winter palace and attended balls, concerts and ballets. But they were also expected to make their own beds and their mother wanted the daughters to be educated more than what was usual for upper class girls. They studied four languages-Russian, French, English and German, and had private tutors. But they also played together as a family, and there are old photos of them bicycling and playing tennis. There are also pictures of Anastasia's artwork sprinkled throughout, which show her to be quite accomplished at an early age.
The book ends tragically with a description of the massacre of the family that took place in 1918. It also talks about the woman who came forward a year later in Germany, claiming she was Anastasia. While this mystery was never completely solved, it should pique the reader's interest. I think Anastasia's Album is quite a special book, perfect for a research paper or just an interesting read.