Thank you to Netgalley and Doubleday Books for an advanced copy. All opinions are my own. This book is scheduled to be published in March and can be preordered HERE.
I remember watching a TV show about the Romanovs when I was a very little girl. It had to be before 1992, because I vividly recall watching it with my grandmother. Over the last couple of years, I’ve furiously googled to find it – it was a 60 Minutes type show – but I’ve come up empty handed. My interest in the Romanovs was sparked then but sadly, my knowledge of their lives and deaths pretty much stopped with that viewing. I’ve no doubt that I’m going to be digging into more Romanov stories this year, given that the 100 year anniversary of their assassination is this summer.
I’ve collected a nonfiction book or two about the Romanovs over the years, but I haven’t actually dived in and read them. When I saw this fiction title, I jumped at the opportunity to read it. Historical fiction is so much more accessible for me and I’m generally okay knowing that authors take some artistic liberties with their stories.
The Anastasia of the title refers to Anastasia Romanov, the youngest daughter of the last royal family in Russia. In 1917, the family was overthrown by the Bolshevik troops and cast into Siberia – essentially isolated from their family and their beautiful home. In 1918, the entire family and the last few devoted household staff were taken into a basement and murdered by a firing squad.
In the 1920s, a woman came forward and claimed that Anastasia survived that horrific night. Anna Anderson sought to be recognized as the Russian Grand Duchess, which would have guaranteed her a comfortable life provided by the royal families scattered across Europe. Many people had their doubts that Anna was actually Anastasia, but there were a few people who were convinced otherwise.
Lawhon beautifully utilizes dual timelines to tell both of their stories. Anna’s begins in the 1970s and works her way back to the early 1900s. We see how she struggles to share her story and to survive in a world that seems hell-bent on keeping her away from what was hers. Anastasia’s story starts with her family being overthrown in 1917 and leads to the night of their murders in 1918. The stories meet in the middle.
I was worried that I was going to get confused with the multiple timelines headed in
different directions, but Lawhon carefully guides the reader through the tangled web. Anastasia’s timeline felt perfect to me – there was enough information to ensure that I really knew and understood her day-to-day life in captivity. Anna’s timeline, 1970 back to 1920ish, felt a bit more rushed and confusing. I found myself wishing that I could spend more time exploring different aspects of her life, despite knowing that there was a lot of ground to cover in order to reach the 20s!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Once I was about 1/3 through it, I had a really hard time putting it down. It helped me understand the history of the Romanovs a bit more, which was a fascinating time. It also sparked an interest in Russian history and literature that has been lurking just beneath the surface. I hope to tackle some difficult books this year, and those include nonfiction books on the Romanovs and other Russian Imperialists, as well as some nonfiction classic literature.
I loved seeing how the author fit these two stories together. I was torn between wanting to believe that Anna was Anastasia and doubting her story. I also spent the story wondering whether she would resolve the mystery or leave it to the reader’s interpretation. Because that was part of the fun for me, I won’t tell you which happened, but I will say that I was very happy with the way that it ended!
A bonus for the history geeks out there: if you happen to watch The House of Windsor on Netflix, there is a bit more Romanov history and a glimpse of a current Princess Olga – a descendant of Anastasia’s uncle. I squealed in delight when I saw her and her home!