The Flight of the Romanovs, A Family Saga by John Curtis Perry ’48? And Constantine Pleshakov. We all know little snippets of this story. We remember the strange (but very temporary) power of Rasputin, the apocryphal (and completely false) story of Anastasia, and the steep fall from imperial sovereignty as the revolution swept away all the trappings of excessive opulence. This book, in elegant, compelling prose, presents the full story of this family of unprecedented wealth and privilege. I could not put this book down.
Our acquaintance with the family begins with the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. Though stability marks succeeding generations, this death serves as a reminder and omen that all can be lost in a moment. When revolution comes, the huge extended Romanov family must scramble to survive. Nicholas II and his family are of course all slaughtered, but the dowager, Nicholas’ mother, survives as do many grand dukes and duchesses, descendants of Nicholas I, Alexander I’s father. We get to know these fallen aristocrats as they seek asylum with royal relatives in Europe, sometimes pathetically failing to cope with their new reality, sometimes showing reserves of unexpected resilience. Some harbor futile hopes that first Lenin and then Stalin will be brought down and that the Romanovs will be restored to what they see as their rightful place. Several, ludicrously, continue to jockey for position as heir apparent.
The authors have explored the archives and have found many documents written by members of this colorful family. Because of this thorough research, the characters come alive. I was quite surprised that the son of Grand Duke Dmitri served as mayor of Palm Beach, right across the state from me. The book reads like a novel, but one where the characters were real people who endured extraordinary upheavals, enormous reversals of fortune, and clashes both petty and earthshaking.