Like a lot of people around the world, I’ve always been fascinated by the story of what became of the Romanovs. When I saw The Last Romanov by bestselling author Dora Levy Mossanen, I knew I had to read it. I remember as a teen being convinced that one of the daughters, Anastasia, had survived. Every time a new potential Anastasia was found, I held my breath and crossed my fingers in hopes that it was true. I was sure she was out there somewhere.
Fueling speculation that someone from the Romanov family might have survived was the information that remains for only 3 of the 5 children were positively identified. That meant someone could have smuggled one or two of the children out and kept them safe from the Bolsheviks. After all, it would have been like a real-life fairy tale if it had been true. I guess no one will ever know at this point.
To set the stage, here’s a short National Geographic trailer about the Romanov family:
“The howls of wild aurochs echo deep in the ancient forest as Boris Spiridov spreads his hunting cloak over a mattress of leaves and Sabrina Josephine, daughter of a grand duke and favorite in the Romanov Palace, squats down as if she has spent her entire life in the forest…A girl is born. A girl with black curls and skin the color of copper. A girl with exquisite golden eyes, one a translucent opal that reflects the depth of her emotions.”
Darya Boradino Spiridova, a Russian noblewoman, was born in 1887 with an opal eye. She has been miraculously long-lived, thanks to a secret she learned that she shares with no one. It has been her life’s mission to find Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, who she has always insisted survived the brutal slaying of the Romanov family. She has spent her extremely long life searching for him. This isn’t a fantasy for her. She has good reason to think he is alive since she was there that horrible fateful night when the Romanov family met their fate in a hail of bullets. Finally by 1991, when she’s 104 years old, other descendents of Russian nobility are in alliance with her that the time is right and he must be found.
“’Is it true that your opal eye can read the thoughts of animals?’
Darya aims her cracked gaze directly at him. ‘Humans too, Golubchik, my dear fellow. I see everything, even what I’d rather not.’ At her age, she had learned to accept many things…accept the crack in the opal that was caused by long-ago grief, a tragedy witnessed, a black stain that should never have happened. She has learned to accept the curiosity her eye stirs, accept that her beauty, unmarred by time or misfortune, is an oddity too.”
Even as a small child, Darya had a unique gift for healing and a generous heart. She also loved to run wild through the forest where she lived. Nicholas II and Alexandra had brought her passionate parents together long ago on a hunting trip. When her parents were killed in a hunting accident, Darya was fortunate that her parents were such great friends with the Romanov family because they took her in as one of their own.
“Sabrina Josephine holds her seven-year-old daughter’s face between two hands and kisses her on her opal eye. ‘You are special, my darling. Different than other girls. You’ll change our world one day. This I know. But to do that, you’ll have to keep evil at bay. Come, I’ll teach you a secret. Turn and spit three times behind your left shoulder to ward off the evil eye.’
Darya plants her hands on her hips, cocks her head, and replies that she does not believe in the evil eye or any other such superstitious nonsense and that she will certainly not spit like a fool behind her shoulder.”
When Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich is born, Darya becomes his caregiver. After Alexi is diagnosed with hemophilia, Empress Alexandra panics at the thought of how easily she could lose him and Nicholas II panics at the thought of having no heir as well as no son. The Russian people are becoming steadily more discontent and the Bolsheviks are on the rise across the land. Darya loves the little Tsarevich, who she feels is like her own son. She uses every trick she knows and gives up everything to try to keep him alive.
I’m not going to tell you more of this story. There’s obviously politics, intrigue and suspense because of the story’s content. Beyond that is the Romanov family with all of the dynamics that families have, even if they are the most privileged family in Russia. And there’s Darya, who’s a young girl and young woman during the reminiscences that make up most of The Last Romanov. She’s a romantic by nature, so of course there is romance involved and there are heartbreaking choices to be made.
Ms. Mossanen does an excellent job of interweaving fact and fiction so that The Last Romanov rings with authenticity. Her writing style is so visual that I was swept up into Darya’s story and felt I was there. There’s mysticism, a bit of magic and a lot of unexplained phenomenon, which one would expect in a novel that includes the psychic and faith healer Grigori Rasputin. If you like historical fiction, whether you’re a big Romanov fan or not, this one is going to be a very satisfying read!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Last Romanov is being published today, April 3, 2012, so it should be available at your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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