I Was Anastasia

Rating: 
Author: Ariel Lawhorn
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (read June 2018)

I had pretty high expectations of this book and unfortunately it just did not live up to them. Anastasia was pretty much my favourite animated film growing up (even though it is not at all historically accurate) and I was super excited to read a whole book about the lost princess. Plus this book had the added intrigue of being written from two contrasting timelines.

I was Anastasia tells the story of the Romanov’s from two points of view. The first is from the POV of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, commencing at the Russian Revolution and leading towards the execution of the entire Romanov family. The second point of view is from a woman going under the name of Anna Anderson who claims to be the princess Anastasia. Anna’s story is told backwards, starting near the end of her life and chronicling her lifelong struggle to be formally recognized as the Grand Duchess.

I was super excited about the structure of this book, but it ended up not working for me at all. It’s a really interesting concept to tell a story backwards and I was definitely intrigued, but I felt it was very poorly executed. There were way too many names and dates and the timeline was constantly changing, so it was extremely difficult to keep track of what was happening and I eventually gave up. Plus the author would constantly end chapters on cliffhangers, but because the story was being told backwards, you would never re-visit that part of the story and it made everything feel very disjointed and de-valued the story because you were constantly meeting characters that only mattered for a chapter or two. It made character development very difficult and Anna Anderson a pretty unlikable character. Because I found her story difficult to follow, I was really only interested in Anastasia’s timeline and would dread every time I had to switch back to Anna (although to be honest, Anastasia’s story started dragging a little bit towards the end as well.)

There were still parts of this story I found interesting though. I’m going to talk about them below, but if you’re still interested in reading the book, than I would suggest not reading any further and not doing any prior research on the Romanov’s – just read the book. This has the potential to be an interesting read if you go into blind because of the way the author has written the story. So be aware that there are spoilers below and you shouldn’t read any further if you’re still planning to read this book.

So what I did like about this book is that I didn’t know Anna Anderson was actually a real person and this is where I think most of the enjoyment of this novel came from. I thought Anna was an entirely made up character and that the author was telling a fictional story to let us decide whether or not we thought Anna Anderson was actually Anastasia. I think this is the greatest strength of the book and I appreciated the authors note because she tells a story that makes you want to believe that Anna is actually Anastasia.

What I didn’t realize is that Anna Anderson is actually a real person and most of what is written in this novel about her is based on true events. Because there was so much secrecy surrounding the deaths of the Romanov’s, there was a great myth that maybe the youngest daughter had survived. There were many Anastasia impostors over the years, especially when it became known about the great wealth the Romanov’s had stored in the Bank of England. However, Anna Anderson is the most famous Anastasia impostor and she does deserve credit for keeping Anastasia and the Romanov’s legacy alive for many many years. She claimed to be Anastasia for over 50 years and had many supporters, many of who actually knew Anastasia, yet she was never able to successfully prove her claim.

I liked that, while the author did take some liberties, this was a historically accurate book. Both stories told in this book are based in fact and as horrific as they both are, they were very interesting to learn about. I can’t love this book because I did have a lot of problems with the timeline and I honestly just didn’t find the writing or the storytelling that compelling. But I learned a lot and I still appreciate what Lawhorn was trying to do with this book. Not a favourite for me, but an interesting read if you’d like to learn a bit more about Anna Anderson and the Grand Duchess Anastasia in her final year and a half of life.

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