“If I tell you what happened that night…I will have to unwind my memory–all the twisted coils–and lay it in your palm. It will be the gift and the curse I bestow upon you. A confession for which you may never forgive me. Are you ready for that? Can you hold this truth in your hand and not crush it like the rest of them? Because I do not think you can. I do not think you are brave enough.” Ariel Lawhon, I WAS ANASTASIA
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 imposter, 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.
In my childhood, my late grandmother showed me a book with Anastasia’s face on the cover, and told me about the woman who claimed to be her. I remember looking through the center section of the book at the haunting, beautiful, black-and-white photographs of the family, and being horrified at the thought of their brutal murders. Still, decades later, every time I see the name Anastasia, I think of the girl, the family, and the horror. When I learned one of my favorite writers of historical suspense was taking on the story, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed.
Ariel Lawhon’s I WAS ANASTASIA is a masterpiece. The style is experimental–a non-linear narrative, where each section falls back in time, a bit at a time. From the US in the 1960s, to Berlin in the 1930s, to New York in the 1920s, to Russia: 1918, 1917. One month earlier, two weeks earlier, one day earlier. Though time runs at reset flashbacks, I never felt lost; Lawhon’s storytelling is grounded and assured.
The changing time periods, the drama surrounding Anna’s true identity, and the story of the Romanovs as they are subjected to ever-increasing pressure make for gripping reading, and the climax is at equal turns fascinating, shocking, and devastating.
Direct, unflinching, and telescopic, I WAS ANASTASIA balances a compelling plot and a complex study of identity. It is unlike any work of fiction I have ever read, and I will be thinking about it for years to come. I give it my highest recommendation.
Have you read it or any of Lawhon’s work? Are you fascinated with the Romanovs?