read by Gabrielle de Cuir and Stefan Rudnicki
The title of this book is a little misleading. It implies that the book is only about the Grand Duchess Elizavyeta Feodorovna (Princess Elisabeth of Hesse, 1864-1918), granddaugher of Queen Victoria of Great Britain and older sister to Tsaritsa Alexandra, wife of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II.
"Ella," as she was known within her family (Nicholas and Alexandra were "Nicky" and "Alicky"), alternates chapters with a fictional character named Pavel. He is a peasant who has come to Saint Petersburg with his bride in 1904. She is killed in a originally-peaceful protest, and Pavel, wanting revenge, becomes a revolutionary.
In this way the reader sees both sides of this 1904-1918 period of unrest in Russia. Pavel moves to Moscow and is involved in the assassination of Ella's husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, in 1905. In 1908, the childless Ella sells off much of her wealth, becomes a Russian Orthodox nun, and founds the Marfo-Mariinsky Convent in Moscow. They do good works caring for the sick and poor, but eventually Ella is arrested and eventually killed. Pavel, having witnessed some of her good works, requests to be one of her guards, and is involved in her death. The story is framed with Pavel imprisoned in Siberia in 1936, awaiting his own death, and telling his story to an imprisoned priest.
It was quite interesting to learn in author Robert Alexander's afterword that Ella was canonized as New Martyr Saint Elizabeth by the Russian Orthodox church in 1981 and 1992. I had not heard of the Grand Duchess before reading this book, which uses the facts of her life as its base.
Robert D. Zimmerman) other two books in his House of Romanov trilogy - or even better, listening to the audiobooks. Polish-born Stefan Rudnicki has a wonderful deep, gravelly voice that was perfect for the peasant Pavel, while veteran narrator and director Gabrielle de Cuir brings her personal distinction and flare for languages to the voice of Ella (who could speak English, German, French, and Russian).
The beautiful image on the cover of the audiobook (at the top of this post) is a painting of the Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna by Friedrich August von Kaulbach. The hardbound book cover (pictured above) features a photograph of her from the Russian State Archive, which was probably taken at the same time as other photographs dated July 1887.
© Amanda Pape - 2014
[The audiobook, and a print copy for reference, were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]