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Nicholas and Alexandra

by Robert K. Massie
640 pages, Biography/History
Reviewed by Jeanne

A poignant, deeply moving history with graphic violence and sexual content.

Plot

This is a historical narration of the life of Nicholas II, last tsar of Russia, and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra. The book briefs the reader on Nicholas' early life before launching into World War I and the tragic events that led to the slaughter of the Romanov family.

Morality

As a history, all of the characters are reproduced as they were in life - with all their faults. Nicholas believes himself appointed as ruler of all Russia by God, and takes his role as the "Father of Russia" very seriously. Alexandra's love for her hemophiliac son, Alexis, prompts her to enlist the help of healer Rasputin, a man with dark spiritual powers. Turmoil and revolution turn Russia upside down, and many citizens have no qualms about killing the nobility of Russia, including the royal family.

Spiritual Content

Gregory Rasputin plays a major role in the narrative; he has obvious spiritual powers that enable him to heal Alexis and therefore to bind Alexandra and, through her, the Tsar to his every will. Many people in Rasputin's time made references to the "frightening quality of his eyes," which he used to hypnotize.

The citizens of Russia are ostensibly Russian Orthodox. Oblique references are made to churches, prayers, and priests/bishops.

Violence

The tale takes place during World War I, but in regard to that there is little violence. Alexis, youngest child of Nicholas and Alexandra, is a hemophiliac and can bleed to death from the slightest bruise or scratch. This plays a major part in the history.

The most graphically violent description is that of the murder of the Romanov family, in which they are all shot. Almost as graphic is Rasputin's death, which contains poisoning, clubbing, shooting, and drowning. At last, Rasputin dies of hypothermia.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Wine and ale are consumed, and as a young man Nicholas often had too much to drink. Cigars are also smoked and photographs of Nicholas and his family sometimes show him with one in his mouth.

Sexual Content

As a young man Nicholas had an attachment to a dancer, but "nothing happened between them," as the young tsarvich was always attended by a chaperone on their outings together. References are made to the ballerina's beauty as well as that of Alexandra.

Rasputin uses his place in Nicholas' court to seduce noblewomen, and when he was a teenager Massie states that he harrassed as many women as he could. Rasputin is also accused of being a member of a sect that believes sex is a way to holiness and God.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Rasputin is incredibly crude in his conversations with women. Only two or three references are made to this, however.

Conclusion

"Nicholas and Alexandra" is an expertly written and accurate history of the life of these royals, who lived in a time of horrific change in Europe. The book reads more like a novel than a history - though full of quotes and descriptions, the pages are full and never bland. Massie writes poignantly and passionately, perhaps having dedicated the tale to his own hemophiliac son.

The violence and sexual content that surround the era and the life of Rasputin make this story clearly best for that age it was written for: adults. Younger readers should be mature and understanding before being introduced to the terrible events depicted in this heartrending narrative.

Fun Score: 4
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: adult

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