Friday, May 6, 2022

After the Romanovs: Russian Exiles in Paris from the Belle Epoque Through Revolution and War (Helen Rappaport)

Russia’s historical love for Paris dates back over 300 years, to when Czar Peter the Great traveled to Western Europe to learn about European customs. He sought to modernize Russia and draw it closer to a more technologically and economically advanced part of the world while also drawing Europe closer to Russia. While his trip wasn’t a total success, he did begin a long-standing fascination with Paris for many Russians. A number of Russian elites and artists had residency in or visited Paris frequently. As the Romanov czar era reached its tumultuous end with revolution in 1917, many Romanov family members and others who were anti-Communist sought refuge and survival in Paris.

Helen Rappaport’s After the Romanovs: Russian Exiles in Paris from the Belle Epoque Through Revolution and War is a richly detailed chronicle of the remnants of the Romanov family and other Russian elites and how they tried to rebuild their lives in France after the Bolsheviks took power and stripped them of their wealth and fame. Those that survived made difficult journeys by boat or land during the last stages of World War I, often while battling the influenza outbreak or other calamities along the way. Paris’s Russian immigrants faced challenges, including xenophobia, and often ended up in hardscrabble conditions during the 1920’s and especially the 1930’s. 

Rappaport’s book gives the reader a voyage into the Russian influence in Parisian art, dance, theater, and culture during the post-czar era. She also dives into how these expats hoped, plotted, and tried to influence the downfall of the Communists in the Soviet Union and how the Soviets worked to divide and subvert the anti-Communist movement.  After the Romanovs is an enjoyable, well-researched book.