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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Saturday, 12 June 2010

"The file on the Tsar" by Anthony Summers and Tom Mangold

This book tells the story of the killing of the Romanov's in July 1918 in a downstairs room at Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. Or it tells of the escape of at least the tsarina and her four daughters (the Grand Duchesses; the book is full of meaningless titles and reverence for aristocracy) and their removal to Perm, from where Anastasia escaped and was recaptured, and from where they were again taken never to be seen again. The book inclines to believe the second story.

Throughout there are rumours reported as fact, facts dismissed as rumours, selective choice of what to believe and character assassination of anyone who believed differently from the authors. Enigmatic pronouncements ("I don't have to see [the woman claiming to be Anastasia]; I know") are italicised and treated as statements of incredible historical importance; single discrepancies in witness statements are used to demolish everything else. For example, an odd scrawl on the massacre wall is revealed to b the letters LYS', written in mirror writing, clearly short for LYS'VA, one of the places on the way to Perm, even though the Russian alphabet is different from the English. Th eyewitness statement given by Medvedev is undermined because the witness was a red guard who gave himself up to the whites and then died during interrogation. Another contradictory statement is believed even though it claims to be written by a person who did not exist; the authors leap over this problem by claiming it was written pseudonymously.

Essentially this is a catalogue of evasions, rumours and contradictions through which they weave the path they clearly wanted to travel in the first place.

The third edition, however, deals in a postscript with the bodies that were found in the woods, whose DNA gave a 98.5% probability that they were Romanov. The authors start by dwelling on the possibility that Science has got it wrong; no less a person than a Russian Orthodox priest is quoted in support of this. They even find a scientist who claims that the techniques used only give a 70% chance. Clearly the fact that someone was shot in Ekaterinburg and that bodies were found in a wood nearby where peasants saw soldiers on the night of the alleged massacre and these bodies have been identified as the Romanovs would shoot even 70% chances up well beyond the 90% mark but this is still not enough for Summers & Mangold. They point out that only 9 bodies have been discovered and that the missing ones are the tsarevich and one daughter. They ride of triumphant.

I enjoyed reading the book; it is a real page turner. However, it is nonsense.

June 2010; 368 pages

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