Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
ON THE TRAIL OF THE CZAR
NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA NEED NO introducing today, but when historian Robert K. Massie wrote his landmark biography of the last rulers of imperial Russia in 1967, his publisher balked at calling it simply Nicholas and Alexandra. "They said nobody would know who they were," says Massie, 66, whose new book, The Romanovs: The Final Chapter (Random House, $25) literally picks up where Nicholas and Alexandra left off—with the murder, on July 17, 1918, of Czar Nicholas II and his family by Bolshevik gunmen. What happened to them postmortem, however, and whether they all in fact died, has been a tantalizing mystery.
Originally it was a medical coincidence that sparked Massie's interest in the Romanov family. The oldest of his four children, Robert, 39, suffers from hemophilia, the incurable blood disease that plagued the czar's son Alexis. "I began to feel sorry for Nicholas as a father. When you hear your child screaming and there's nothing you can do, you sympathize with parents who have the same torment."
In 1992 science and politics conspired to reunite Massie and the Romanovs, when the newly democratic Russian government permitted competing teams of scientists to identify disinterred skeletons believed to have been the imperial family's. Massie chronicled the race between the experts. Using, among other clues, dental work, blood samples from living relatives, including Britain's Prince Philip, a lock of the czar's hair found in a Russian palace and a bloody cloth he used when a Japanese man cut him with a sword in 1892, scientists identified Nicholas, Alexandra and three of their five children. "It was a damn good story," Massie says, "a great deal of fun."