In an enthralling new feat of historical suspense, Ariel Lawhon unravels the extraordinary twists and turns in Anna Anderson’s 50-year battle to be recognized as Anastasia Romanov. Is she the Russian Grand Duchess, a beloved daughter and revered icon, or is she an impostor, the thief of another woman’s legacy?
Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.
Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.
Germany, February 17, 1920: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.
Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson.
As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a brilliantly crafted dual narrative structure, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory yet: the nature of identity itself.
The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling story is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.
If you’re like me, the first time you heard of Anastasia and the Romanov family was through the 1997 animated feature, Anastasia. For me, it started a lifelong fascination. I also remember reading the Dear America ‘Anastasia’ book. I did my best to read as much as possible with the Romanovs. I always wanted to believe that Anna Anderson was the Russian princess, but sadly, we know she was not. We now know that the entire family died that night, so long ago. Four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Marie and Anastasia. One son, Alexei, the Tsar and Tsarina, Nicholas and Alexandra. All their lives snuffed out by a hail of bullets.
“Am I truly Anastasia Romanov? A beloved daughter. A revered icon. A Russian grand duchess.”
Admittedly, I don’t usually enjoy dual narratives, but this time it worked for me. Anna’s story works backwards while Anastasia’s goes chronologically. It sets it all up for a beautiful conclusion. The author has skillfully weaved together a narrative that brings history alive. Some moments I am pretty certain are based more on rumour, but still it doesn’t take away from the novel at all. It offers a view into the differing lives of Anna and Anastasia and it really resonates, giving you room to wonder, ‘could it be?’ We know what really happened. But the delight in wondering always remains.
I highly recommend this book. It comes out in March but I couldn’t resist sharing my thoughts until then! I won’t share too much as I don’t want to give away any spoilers. But I will continue on and say that the characterizations are so realistic that you feel as if you get to know everyone on a personal level. It makes reading about the times the family endured even harder; it’s very emotional. I think it is likely one of the best novels I’ve read in a long while.
Definitely give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed!
Ariel Lawhon is the critically acclaimed author of THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS, FLIGHT OF DREAMS, and I WAS ANASTASIA. Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, four sons, and black Lab—who is, thankfully, a girl.