The Romanovs

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE ROMANOVS: THE FINAL CHAPTER is an unusual sequel to Massie’s earlier NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA and PETER THE GREAT. In the first of the book’s three parts, Massie relates the savage murders of Nicholas and Alexandra, their five children, physician, and three servants, and the subsequent disposal of and search for their remains. Yet Massie’s account, which begins to read like a mystery, focuses on efforts to identify the nine skeletons exhumed in 1991 from a shallow grave near Ekaterinburg (remains of the tsarevich and one duchess are missing). In the process, Massie reveals that the atrocious treatment of the Romanovs continues to the present.

A Russian forensic team, using a technique called “combinatorial mathematics,” first determined the identification of the bones, despite bureaucratic obstacles and rivalry between Moscow and Ekaterinburg for control of the remains. To have their findings accepted in the West, however, they needed the support of Western forensic experts. Here, Massie is especially revealing as he details the subterfuge and squabbling of rival scientists who used DNA testing to differentiate the remains. (Their conclusions corroborated those of the Russians, with the exception of the missing duchess.)

The second part of the book about various impostors focuses on Anna Anderson, the much-publicized “Duchess Anastasia.” Once again, Massie reveals the unseemly rivalry between forensic experts vying to establish her identity. The third (and least interesting part) continues to highlight human pettiness as it enumerates Romanov emigres who harbor varying degrees of interest in and claims to the nonexistent Romanov throne.

Despite Massie’s subtitle, the “final chapter” about the Romanovs can not be written until it is definitively known what happened to the two missing bodies, and which of the daughters, Marie or Anastasia, is the lost duchess. This can be done with Imperial medical records that some believe exist somewhere in the archives. In addition, one cannot say that the saga is finished until the remains, which probably are still in the morgue in Ekaterinburg, receive a proper burial.