Loving Your Neighbor’s Wife: Or Lessons From Russian Lit

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Dear Readers,

I just finished reading The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons From Russian Literature. Okay, to be totally honest, I didn’t actually “read” it, I listened to the audio book. (Still counts!) The premise of the book is what caught my eye. A book that sets out to teach life lessons based on Russian literature…..what’s not to like? No one captures the human condition quite like Russian authors. As an Irishman, a people well known for our sense of tragedy, I must admit that the Russians do it even better. But I digress.

The author, Viv Groskop, studied the Russian language and literature in college and spent a year living in Russia in the early 90s. Each chapter of her book discusses a different Russian classic (and it’s author), and boils it down to its essential premise. She illustrates the life lesson with stories from her own experience in Russia. The reader (or listener) can easily apply said lesson to their own life. Such as, don’t jump in front of a train. (Anna Karenina)

If you think about it, we all struggle with certain questions in our life. Why do bad things happen? What if you love someone who doesn’t love you? What if you love someone that you shouldn’t? Is there any deeper meaning in life? Is there such a thing as fate? Luckily for those of you who are literarily (is that a word?) inclined, the pantheon of Russian lit holds all the answers. I think that at some level, most great works of literature examine at least one of these essential questions, regardless of the national origin of the author, but perhaps because of their history, Russian authors tend to do the best job. I guess a certain amount of angst is an invaluable tool for an author.

At only 224 pages, Groskop manages to briefly sum up most of the great works of Russian literature before delving into the answers to life’s questions they provide. If you add up the pages of the works themselves, it would run to thousands of pages, so this book can be used both as a primer on classic lit or as a refresher course if you’ve read the authors discussed. It’s a book that you’ll want to revisit (I’ve listened to it twice) so you can fully digest the material. Perhaps take a note or two, and then look over them should you find yourself pondering life.

My only complaint is that Mikhail Sholokhov is not mentioned. He won the Nobel Prize in 1965 and his seminal work Quiet Flows the Don is, in my biased opinion, the finest novel ever written. It was the most widely read work of Soviet literature. But, as is often the case, whether we like or dislike an author is subjective. Not mentioning him in the book may have been due to constraints of time and space. It is also true, however, that Sholokhov, fine writer though he was, is not overly popular in some circles. He was very close with Stalin. A member of the Communist Party, he was also elected to the Supreme Soviet. I’ve looked over some university reading lists for Russian literature PhD programs, and he is not even included on some of them. And that, Dear Readers, is a travesty.

So what lesson can you learn from Quiet Flows the Don? Don’t fall in love with your neighbors wife. And should a civil war break out in your country, make sure you are on the winning side.

That said, The Anna Karenina Fix will appeal to lovers of literature, both Russian and every other kind. The book has a lighthearted tone and, if you listen to the audio book, it is rather like sitting back and hearing a story. A story part hilarious and part sad (such as Groskop’s experience at a Russian funeral). So throw on your ushanka, hop on your troika, and raid your nearest bookstore. You’ll enjoy it.

L.H.

A Sweeping Historical Saga on Netflix

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Dear Readers,

This is shaping up to be a busy semester. I’m teaching six classes (five in person and one online). In addition to classroom and office time, I have my faculty council responsibilities and also, this semester, I’m on a faculty hiring committee which means more meetings and interviews. We are only two weeks in and I already feel like I’ve been beaten with a baseball bat whilst getting run over by a bus. (Most of that is due to the fall I had a few weeks back which greatly aggravated my existing back injuries.) Hopefully I’ll be able to come up for air once Spring Break gets here.

Busy though I am, I do keep my evenings free. It is a nightly tradition. I get in bed at 7pm and read while watching TV with my cat, Anastasia. (I can multi-task and so reading while watching TV isn’t a problem for me.) I am a huge fan of the period drama, British, Russian, German, you name it, I’ll watch it. I can now add Turkish to the list. I recently discovered Kurt Seyit ve Sura on Netflix and decided to give it a watch. Coming in at 46 episodes of around 45 minutes each, I probably won’t finish it before the Second Coming, but it is a binge worthy series. I don’t speak Turkish, but as it is on Netflix, it has subtitles.

I did some background reading on the series. It is based on a novel, which I am also reading. The story is actually true and is the story of the author’s grandparents who fled Russia for Istanbul following the Russian Revolution. Though the main characters are Russian, they are played by Turkish actors/actresses. I keep expecting them to speak Russian, but alas, they do not. Oddly enough, this is the first time I’ve actually ever heard spoken Turkish. It is a very pretty language.

There is something about the Russian Revolution that lends itself to drama on a massive scale. Consider Doctor Zhivago, one of the finest movies ever made. (Though the twelve part Russian mini-series version was more faithful to the book.) There is another Russian Revolution epic on Netflix right now too, The Road to Calvary. It’s excellent too. And in Russian (English subs) which lends to the ambiance. But for the full epic experience, you have to watch the 2015 Russian television adaption of Тихий Дон. I’ve sang its praises on a few occasions, and you can watch it for free here. But be warned that it isn’t subtitled.

I’m not sure what it is about the Russian past that lends itself so well to stories painted upon a massive canvas. Whether it be in print, or on screens big or small, there’s something about the county and her history that demand to be told. Perhaps it is the sheer vastness of the steppes, or the haunting beauty of Saint Petersburg. Not to mention the tragedy. There’s something about Russian and Irish authors. They seem to instinctively understand human suffering. And that translates well to film as well. For example, consider this scene where Aksinia is sitting outside the house where her lover Grishka is marrying someone else. It’ll draw a tear for sure.

I wish more sweeping epics of the American past would make their way to the screen. Back in the days of weekly television mini-series offerings, we seemed to have more of them. But it’s almost as if historical epics aren’t that popular with movie audiences in the United States anymore, despite the fact that historical fiction enjoys a steady following. Oh well, thankfully the rest of the world fills the void. I’ll keep watching Seyit ve Sura and maybe I’ll pick up a word or two of Turkish while I’m at it.

L.H.

A Literary Look at the Russian Soul

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Dear Readers,

The other day I came across this post from 2014 by Off The Shelf called “Ten Russian Novels to Read Before You Die”. My first thought was “Reading ten Russian novels will take you sixty years” as Russian literature is not known for its brevity, so yes, you’ll be dead by the time you finish. I minored in Literature/Creative Writing as an undergraduate student and one of my professors opined that you could throw away the first hundred pages of a Russian novel and still be able to follow the story. There is some truth to that, I suppose. I have a BA and an MA in History along with an MS in Criminal Justice, but if I had to get a PhD in something, it would not be history. There are quite a few reasons why that is that need not detain us here. I would, however, love to get a PhD in Russian literature. It will never happen, for a myriad of other reasons, but it is nice to dream about.

If you study Russian history, language, and culture, you often come across references to the “Russian soul” as an expression of Russian identity. The great works of Russian literature all tend to touch on various aspects of this soul. This might come across more in the original language than in the English translations. The Russian language is more nuanced and has more depth than English, making translation tricky. I spent years studying the Russian language and can read it fluently and speak it with some degree of usefulness. I’ve read the works I’ll discuss below in both Russian and English. Sometimes I think when it comes to foreign works of literature, it is best to go to the original language if you can.

I’m not going to give you a list of ten Russian books to read before you die. I’m simply going to tell you about my favorite three and why they are my favorites. You won’t find Pushkin on the list, nor Dostoevsky. Obviously, I’ve read them along with others such as Chekov, Bulgakov, and Grossman. I’m not saying the works below are the greatest works in the pantheon of Russian lit, merely that they are my favorites. What I like or dislike doesn’t always follow the path of critical acclaim or financial success. For example, I thought The Da Vinci Code was the most godawful book I’d ever read, yet look at how many copies it sold. Payback by the German author Gert Ledig is, in my opinion, one of the finest and most haunting novels written about World War Two and it is long out of print. So feel free to take anything and everything I say with a massive grain of salt. Hemingway I ain’t.

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I will say that Mikhail Sholokhov’s masterpiece Тихий Дон (Quiet Flows the Don) and its sequal The Don Flows Home to the Sea make up the finest novel ever written in Russian or any other language, in my opinion. I have said this before and I will proclaim it until I read something better, which I doubt will ever happen. Consider this passage which opens the section which deals with the outbreak of World War One:

“The dry growth of the steppe was afire, and a sickly-smelling haze hung over the Donside slopes. At night, the clouds deepened over the Don, ominous peels of thunder were to be heard; but no rain came to refresh this parched earth, although the lightning tore the sky into jagged, lived fragments. Night after night, an owl screeched from the belfry. The cries surged terrifyingly over the village, and the owl flew from the belfry to the cemetery and groaned over the brown and grass grown mounds of the graves.”

At it’s most basic level, this is a simple story. A man loves two women and loses them both amidst the turmoil of war and revolution. But it is more, so much more than that. Тихий Дон is a sweeping epic of Cossack life following the fortunes of the Don Cossacks from the eve of World War One through the war, the Russian Revolution, and the Civil War which follows. It’s a tragedy which plays out on a giant canvas. Some scenes will leave you breathless, such as when Grishka saves the life of his lover Aksinia’s husband. To me, the most haunting scenes involve the old men in the Cossack villages. Their world is crumbling all around them and they cannot understand why. They try to cling to the old ways as their lives spin out of control.

If you only read one Russian novel, or one foreign novel, (or hell, one novel period), read this one. Just make sure you read both Quiet Flows the Don and The Don Flows Home to the Sea as they are really one story. Now, not only do the Russians write epic novels, they also film massive historical epics. Quiet Flows the Don has been put on a film a few times, including during the Soviet era, but I never much cared for those versions. In 2015, however, they released a 14 part adaptation of the book. You can watch it free here on YouTube, but it isn’t subtitled. If you’ve read the novels, you can still follow the story as it is faithful to the books, and even if you haven’t read the story, the themes are universal and you can still follow the basic plot. Trust me, you won’t be sorry to spend time watching it. If you want a little preview though, here is a music video of a song that appears in the series, Чёрный ворон – друг ты мой залётный (Black Raven: You Are My Friend). You can listen to the song and enjoy the breathtaking landscape and scenes from the series. Seriously, at the very least, give the song a listen and it’ll probably make you want to watch the show. I’ve watched it five times at last count. It’s the only movie or television series I’ve ever scene that has made me cry, more than once during the show, and every time I watch it. I freely admit to having a bit of a literary crush on Aksinia Astakhova. A literary crush is like a history crush, except it is on a fictional character rather than a historical figure……as in my wife’s obsession with Manfred von Richthofen…..

(Note there are two more books in the Don series; Virgin Soil Upturned and Harvest on the Don, but they are not as good as the first two)

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The Napoleonic Wars played out on a massive stage in Europe. When the Emperor invaded Russia, little did he know that not only would he suffer a major defeat, but his invasion would also give rise to one of the true classics in literature, Война и мир (War and Peace). Tolstoy was a master at his craft. In true Russian fashion, War and Peace takes a little while to build up steam. I know many people who have tried to read it but go so bogged down with the names and glacial slowness of the story for the first hundred pages or so that they gave up. I told them they’d be sorry for putting the book aside, but I don’t know if they are or not. This is one of those books that if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded.

It is true that all the names and familial ties can be difficult to keep track of whilst you work your way through the book. It might not hurt to print out a handy character tree. Wikipedia has a list of characters and also provides a family tree of sorts which illustrates the various entangling relationships. Tolstoy served in the Russian Army during the Crimean War, and I think his own exposure to the hardships soldiers faced in the 19th Century helped him create such vivid images of Napoleonic warfare. Much of the book takes place away from the battlefield, but his battlefield scenes are some of the best ever written. Like Quiet Flows the Don, this novel has been adapted many times. The Russians had the best adaptation of it filmed in the 1960s. However, in 2016 the BBC released a marvelous version of their own which you can find on Amazon. It’s well worth watching.

Incidentally, Tolstoy had a distant relative named Aleksey Tolstoy who wrote during the Soviet era. His trilogy The Road to Calvary set in St. Petersburg during the Revolution has been made into a series and, to our good fortune, is available on Netflix! With subtitles if you don’t speak Russian. I’m working my way through it now and it is very good.

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Any discussion of Russian literature has to involve Boris Pasternak and his magnum opus, Doctor Zhivago. Like many, I dare say most, of you, my first exposure to it was through the great film from 1965. I watched it with my great-grandmother for the first time when I was around 8 years old (circa 1986) and was immediately captivated by the story. As I would later find out, the movie isn’t entirely faithful to the book, but it is still a cinematic masterpiece of its own. I read the novel for the first time in high school. A few years ago, I read it in the original language. The story of how Pasternak came to write it and how it was published is an epic tale in its own right!

One thing that I’ve found so interesting about this book is that Pasternak manages to make Zhivago a such a sympathetic character. Let’s be honest, he’s screwing around on his wife! Yet the reader still feels for him.  In a previous post I compared Doctor Zhivago with Gone With the Wind as they are similar. In Pasternak’s book, a man loves two women and loses them both as war and revolution sweep away the old world and usher in a new one. In Mitchell’s book, a women is in love with two men and loses them both as civil war sweeps away the old world and ushers in a new one. (You know, I can sum up these classics in one sentence, but I can’t seem to write a one sentence description of my own book. Amusing, that.)

To keep on the movie theme, the Russians made a twelve part adaptation of Doctor Zhivago that is a lot more faithful to the actual story than the 1965 film was. It’s available on Amazon here and comes with English subtitles. I’ve watched it a couple of times and it is good. Not Тихий Дон good, but still worthwhile.

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Anastasia “helping” me work on edits to my novel.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. My favorite works of Russian literature. Thank you to all who read through to the end. I know this was a somewhat verbose piece of writing. And speaking of writing, one thing I have had to learn is to stop mentally comparing my own work to these classics. While working on my draft of So Others May Live, I’d get frustrated and almost give up because I’ll never be as good as Sholokov. I’ll never write anything on the scale of Quiet Flows the Don. Or War and Peace. Or Doctor Zhivago. And do you know what? That’s perfectly okay. There’s a reason why out of the bazillion books published in history, only a relatively small number are considered classics. I had to accept the fact that I needed to tell my story my own way, not Sholokov’s way. Which, come to think of it, is probably a good thing for my editor as I’m sure 324 pages of my writing, as rough as it can be, is easier to sort through than 1200 pages of my writing. wouldn’t even read 1200 pages of my own writing!

Until next time, comrades. Happy Reading.

(Update: Summer 2019….with the recent release of my novel, I now have time to read all these books for the hundredth time!) 

L.H.

Two Classics Express the Human Condition

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A woman loves two men and loses them both amidst a catastrophic war which sweeps away an entire way of life. A man loves two women and loses them both amidst a war and ensuring revolution which ushers in a world unlike that which existed before. Sound familiar? The first is the basic plot (boiled down for simplicity) of Gone With the Wind while the second is the main plot (also boiled down) of Dr. Zhivago. The films are classics, of course, but the novels are as well. Russian literature in particular has great depth to it. I’ve been able to read Zhivago in the original language, as well as the English translation. And I am proud to own a first edition of Gone With the Wind which belonged to my great-grandmother’s sister.

What interests me about these books when compared to one another is that they explore similar themes, though they were written in different times and places. Gone With the Wind was published first, in 1936, but it is nearly impossible that Pasternak could have read it because it was not published in the Soviet Union until 1982 and the movie was not released there until 1990. The fact that love and loss amidst the backdrop of war serves both books so well speaks to universal human condition and emotion. Just as the Civil War transformed the American South, so too did World War One, the Russian Revolution (really a Civil War of its own), followed by the Red Terror transformed Russia. In both books, you have people trying their best to survive amidst terrible hardships.
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I love epics, be they of screen or page. There’s something about a sweeping story which catches you up and brings you along for the ride which appeals to me. Sadly, not everyone feels this way. When I was a young single man, I invited a girl to my apartment to watch a movie and popped in Dr. Zhivago. That was our third date. She declined a fourth. 😊

If you want to take this one step further, Sholokov’s masterpiece Quiet Flows the Don can be compared to the two as well. It is a magnificent epic of Cossack life starting in 1912 and ending in the early 1920s. It also involves the story of a man in love with two women who loses them both. Forbidden love. War. Revolution. Death. They are all present. Whereas Mitchell probably never read Sholokov before she wrote Gone With the Wind (though it is remotely possible as the first English translation was in 1934), it is highly likely that Pasternak read it at some point. But how much it influenced his own work is anyone’s guess.

Dramatic times make for dramatic fiction which is why I think historical fiction will always appeal to people. Not only is it escapism into the past, but it can flesh out the traditional history that you get in school where you may only be served up a litany of names, dates, and facts but without any life. You can learn as much from a good historical novel (by that I mean well written and researched) as you can from an academic book.

Of course there are differences between the books as well, but the purpose of this was to mention what they had in common. Also, as a final note, in 2015 Russian television filmed a 14 part masterpiece based on Quiet Flows the Don. You can find it free on YouTube here Be warned that it is not subtitled, but you don’t have to be a Russian speaker to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and you can pick up on the basic plot line too.

And there you have my thoughts, Dear Reader.

L.H.

Murder in Ekaterinburg

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Dear Readers,

My interest in Russian History really began with the announcement of the discovery of the remains of the Romanov Family (and four attendants), minus two of the children whose remains were discovered years later. Prior to that, it being the Cold War and all, I remember being taught in school that the Russians wanted to invade the United States, send our parents to Siberia, and force us to be communists. I maintained a healthy interest over the years and read as widely as I could, even going so far as to learn the Russian language, which, I might add, is extremely difficult.

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Unlike some who study the Romanov dynasty and its downfall, I am not a monarchist. I emphatically reject the notion that any person is superior to me based simply on their status at birth. I cannot, for the life of me, fathom the Royal Family worship exhibited by many Americans, but I digress. Nor do I look on Nicholas II as a benevolent, kindly man. Sure, he was a devoted father and husband and by all accounts, a great one. Too many people, however, gloss over or ignore his anti-Semitism, his use of a secret police force to target dissidents, and the fact that he was an autocratic ruler who answered to no one. I do not feel sorry for him, nor do I really feel any sympathy for his wife, though she never really got a fair chance from the first time she set foot in Russia. My sympathies do lie with the children, who did not deserve to die because of who their father was. No matter the sins of the Tsar, they should not have been placed upon the children as well. (In the interest of full disclosure, and as I previously noted here, I have a history crush on Maria Nikolaevna, the third of the four daughters.)

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My history crush. (Well, one of them anyway.)

Obscene and vile are the only words that come to mind if I am asked to describe what happened in the Ipatiev Basement in the early morning hours of 17 July 1918. Movies made about the final days of the Romanov Family often depict the murder as being a relatively simple affair. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps it is best that the big screen doesn’t depict what really happened to spare the viewer from the horrific spectacle, but that also does a disservice to history. We like our history neat and tidy, and though we acknowledge that terrible things happen, we don’t necessarily want to know all of the gory details. If that is how you like your history, then do not read any further. But if the truth interests you, then proceed.

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Yakov Yurovsky

I will give you one caveat. None of the accounts match exactly as to what happened or what didn’t happen. I’m going off of the most probably course of events when all sources are pooled together to create a likely timeline. At the end, I’ll give you the sources I’ve utilized. We’ll never know the exact truth, and I am not saying that what follows is exactly what happened, merely what is likely to have happened. Allow me to repeat: I’m not saying this is the precise order of events with historical certainty, only historical probability. Okay, we’ve gotten the historical caveat out of the way, let us now proceed to basement of the Ipatiev House. The size of the room is somewhere around 23X21 feet, so rather small, though exactly how large or small again varies from account to account.

A single light bulb casts shadows along the walls. Alexei, 13, is seated in a small wooded chair with a pillow behind him. His mother Alexandra, the Tsarina, is likewise seated in a second chair. There were no chairs in the basement when they arrived just a few minutes ago, but Alexei was suffering from a crippling bout of hemophilia and could not walk (his father carried him down the stairs) and Alexandra has been dealing with sciatica for many years and was often confined to a wheelchair. The daughters, Olga (22), Tatiana (21), Maria (19), and Anastasia (17) are gathered behind their mother. Nicholas, former Tsar, stands in between and slightly ahead of the chairs where his wife and son are seated. The family physician, Dr. Botkin, stands behind Alexei. Two others, the cook and the valet, Trupp and Kharitonov, stand along the black wall as does Anna Demidova, Alexandra’s maid, who clutches a pillow with jewels sewed inside. In fact, the daughters too have jewels sewed into their corsets and even Alexei wears an undershirt likewise armored.

The room is cramped and dark. Did they believe they would die? Earlier, Yurovsky who was to be their chief executioner, told them they had to wait for a truck to arrive to take them to a safer place as White forces were getting close to the town. He may or may not have told them they had to take a picture before they left. (Accounts differ on this point.) Finally, the sound of a truck entering the courtyard penetrates the walls of the basement. Surely this means they are about to leave. They family faces the door expectantly and finally it opens. Yurovsky walks in holding a sheet of paper in his left hand. His right is shoved into his pocket. But behind him? Ten other men enter clutching pistols. They look young and even scared. Several of them sport bloodshot eyes and stagger a bit from the alcohol they’ve spent the past several hours drinking. Earlier that night, two young men refused to take part in the execution and said they could not shoot the daughters. Yurovsky excused them from the duty and replaced them with two others. Six, including Yurovsky, are Russian. The other five are Latvians. Each has been assigned a specific person to shoot and told to aim straight for the heart to kill quickly and avoid excess bleeding that they’d have to clean up later. They close the door behind them. At this point, I think the Romanovs and their servants must have known, or guessed, what was about to happen.

Yurovsky orders everyone to stand. Alexandra rises from her chair but Alexei cannot. He begins to read the order sentencing them to death. As soon as he finishes, Nicholas looks at him in shock and asks “What? What?” Yurovsky reads the order again. Alexandra begins to cross herself. Yurovsky yanks a pistol out of his pocket and fires a round straight into Nicholas’ chest. The others open fire but rather than shoot at their assigned victims, they too riddle the Tsar’s body with bullets as he slumps onto the floor. Everyone wanted to be able to claim they killed the Tsar, but gunning down the Tsarina or her beautiful daughters? There is no honor in that. The men begin to fire wildly as the women scream in terror. The men in the back are firing over the shoulders of the men in front of them, so close that some suffer permanent hearing loss while others are burned by the muzzle flashes.

The air quickly becomes dense with smoke. Bullets ricochet off the plaster walls and rattle around the room. Some of the bullets intended for the Nicholas instead strike Trupp and Botkin, who goes down with wounds to the abdomen and shattered kneecaps, none fatal. Trupp dies quickly from a wound to the head, as does Kharitonov. Alexandra turns her head away and tries to cross herself as Ermakov, one of the executioners, raises his pistol from very close range and pulls the trigger. The bullet strikes her in the head. Blood and brain matter spray into the air. Through it all, Alexei still sits in the chair, unhurt, as his father’s blood slowly runs down his face.

There is a door in the back of the basement. Perhaps it offers a chance of escape? Maria desperately tries to claw the door open until a bullet to the thigh crumples her to the floor. A leg wound likewise drops Anna Demidova to the floor where she passes out from shock, fear, and pain. Olga, Anastasia, and Tatiana cower in a corner. The air is so thick with the choking fumes from the pistols that the executioners can’t see or breathe. Yurovsky orders them to stop. He opens the doors and the men step outside into the cool night air. Some vomit. But there is still a job to be done. What should have been quick was anything but. A few men grab rifles with bayonets from another room and return to the basement.

The floor is slick with blood. The room stinks of gunpowder, blood, urine, and feces from bowels loosened in death or fear. Alexei still sits in the chair in a terrified state of paralysis. Yurovksy empties his Mauser revolver into Alexei’s chest with seemingly little effect. Finally he slumps to the floor where he lies moaning, still alive. Attempts to stab him with a bayonet prove useless as it cannot penetrate his “armor”. Finally, Alexei is dispatched with two rounds through his ear and into his brain. In the far corner, Olga and Tatiana are shielding Anastasia with their own bodies. The men approach, feet slipping on the bodily fluids pooled on the floor.

The older to girls try to stand up. Tatiana makes it to her feet and is cut down by a bullet through her head which exits her face and covers her sisters with blood as they shriek hysterically in terror. Olga is shoved back onto the floor and shot in the head. Botkin is likewise shot through the head as he lays wounded on the ground. Anastasia crawls over to where her sister Maria lies wounded. She is dragged away and, like her sister, is finished off with numerous bayonet thrusts, blows from rifle butts, and a bullet to the head. What should have taken seconds has taken twenty terrifying minutes.

Suddenly, Anna Demidova regains consciousness! She sits up and exclaims “God has saved me!” The men turn on her with bayonets. Anna fends them off by using her jeweled pillow as a shield. Finally, the shield is knocked away. As Ermakov lunges with a bayonet aimed for her stomach, she grabs it with her hands. Blood runs from her hands as it is forced into her stomach. She is finished off with numerous bayonet thrusts and rifle butts. Later, as the bodies are loaded into the back of the truck, one of the daughters, either Maria or Anastasia suddenly sits up and screams. She is dragged from the truck and finished off with bayonets and rifle butts. Finally, finally, it is all over.

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One of the last group photos of the daughters, taken while in captivity.

I will not go into detail about the burial of the remains other than to say they were first placed in one location, then removed the next day to a different site. There, an attempt was made to burn the two smallest bodies (Maria/Anastasia and Alexei). Those two bodies were buried in a separate grave than the rest. Thus, when the official exhumation of the remains took place, two bodies were missing. This poured fuel on the fire of those who desperately hoped Anastasia survived. Scientists all agree Alexei was missing, but some stated the missing body belonged to Maria and others to Anastasia. It wasn’t until 2007 that the second grave was discovered.  Though it isn’t know for sure if Anastasia or Maria was in the grave with Alexei, DNA has proven that ALL the members of the family died in the basement. There were no survivors, which isn’t surprising given the brutality of what took place. Despite the DNA though, there are still people out there who hold desperately onto the belief that Anastasia survived. I’m not sure why, really. But it is what it is.

As I stated at the beginning, I have no sympathy for Nicholas or Alexandra. My sympathies lie with the children, especially Maria whom I’ve had a history crush on for a long, long time. Perhaps when I die, my spirit will float back through time and I will have the chance to dance just one waltz with her in Saint Petersburg.

Hutch

The Fate of the Romanovs King & Wilson

The Last Days of the Romanovs: Rappaport

Nicholas and Alexandra: Massie

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter: Massie

Also, the best online resource out there: The Alexander Palace here.

Where it Began

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When I was a kid in the 80s, I remember watching a made for TV movie about the well known Anastasia imposter Anna Anderson. This sparked an interest in the fall of the Romanov Dynasty. In junior high, I read Massie’s masterpiece Nicholas and Alexandra. In 10th grade, my World History teacher showed us the movie in class.This was shortly after the Russian’s announced the discovery of the first grave with 9 bodies. Over time, I branched out and studied other areas of Russian History as well, particularly their role in the Great Patriotic War. I even began to study the language. I remember waiting with much excitement the results of the DNA testing done on the first set of remains and on the second set found in 2007. At last, we had a final ending to the story and I’m glad it happened in my lifetime.

I am not a monarchist by any means. I abhor the idea of a nobility where one man is better than me by virtue of his birth. However, I cannot help but feel pity for the children of the Tsar given the horrible manner in which they died. No matter the alleged “crimes” of their father, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei did not deserve their fate. But one of the daughters has held a special place in my heart from when I first saw the above photo many years ago.

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Maria Nikolaevna Romanova. My wife (aka The Redhead) says I have a history crush on Maria, perhaps because I keep a photo of her on my desk. Given the fact that The Redhead has not one but two photos of Manfred von Richthofen on her desk (she’s German, so…..), she has no room to criticize. And who knows? Maybe she’s right. Maybe I do have a bit of a history crush. But it isn’t just that. For some reason, in the photos Maria looks as though she’s looking straight into my eyes, and perhaps my soul. All of Nicholas’ daughters were beautiful young ladies, though each in their own way, but Maria speaks to me the most.

I’m not Russian Orthodox. I’m Irish Catholic. As such, things such as icons are frowned on officially (though we are allowed our candles…..I guess that is “different”). However, I have an icon of the Romanov Family (Holy Martyrs/Passion Bearers) on my wall. As a former police officer, Saint Michael is my homeboy. I wear a medal with his likeness on a chain and I speak to him daily. Before I leave the house each morning, I repeat “Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle….etc”. But I also speak to Maria Nikolaevna. I tell her of my hopes and fears, and of my battles with disease and injury. I ask her to intercede on my behalf, and I like to think she does.

One day I’ll get to meet her, after my body final gives up the fight. Perhaps my spirit will travel back in time so I can dance just one waltz with her at a ball in Saint Petersburg. After that, I have other places to go and people to visit, but she’s the one I’d like to meet first. So maybe it is a history crush. Or maybe it is just a profound respect.

L.H.