Susanne Dunlap’s novel, Anastasia’s Secret, was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury Books and is 330 pages. It is written for a young adult audience but can be enjoyed equally by adults. I won the book in a giveaway and read it in three days.
I remember being fascinated by the story of Anastasia Romanova as a young girl when my grandmother told me the story of her family’s execution and the claims of a woman, years later, that she was Anastasia. There has been much debate about whether or not the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II escaped from the Bolsheviks, but it is now believed that she did not. The aura of intrigue around this Russian royal family and their beautiful children, however, continues to fascinate.
Anastasia’s Secret begins in 1913 when the Tsar of Russia and his family are in power and enjoying their lives amidst palaces, balls, and parties. The four daughters and one son live a life of comfort and ease surrounded by tutors, servants, family, and friends, with only Alexei’s hemophilia to trouble them. The story is told from the perspective of the youngest daughter, Anastasia, and when we meet her she befriends a soldier playing the guitar in her garden. She is not supposed to converse with those not of her class, but the daring young Duchess cannot stop herself. Her conversation with the guard, Sasha, leads to a relationship that continues throughout the rest of her short life.
It is from Sasha that Anastasia first learns that her family is not widely loved and that the people of Russia are turning against the aristocracy. Changing political tides and a World War, along with suspicions about the Empress Alexandra’s relationship with Rasputin as a healer of her sick son lead to the imprisonment of the family within their palace and the gradual increase of restrictions on their freedom. As the Tsar’s family learns to live as commoners, Anastasia learns about the beauty of love with Sasha. He is her oasis in the midst of her family’s crisis, and in spite of appearances, remains loyal to her until the end.
If the marks of a great book are that you devour it, it makes you cry, and you spend an hour on the internet learning more about the characters then Anastasia’s Secret gets an A+. Dunlap is a gifted, controlled writer whose voice as a teenager in love and war is realistic, evocative, and engaging. Anastasia’s Secret is the perfect blend of history and story and I look forward to reading more of Dunlap’s work. I highly recommend this novel.