I Was Anastasia
Ariel Lawhon, 2018
In 1918, after being overthrown and imprisoned by the Bolshevicks, the Tsar and his family were taken into a basement in Ekaterinburg and murdered. This included the Tsar, his wife, his son, his four daughters, and four members of their staff. No one survived... or did they? Rumors spread that the youngest daughter, Anastasia, survived the attack. In 1920, a woman is pulled from a canal in Berlin. Covered in scars, she at first refuses to identify herself, but eventually claims to be Anastasia herself. This is the story of both Anastasia as a child and of the woman known as Anna Anderson, and about the mystery that surrounded them.
I'm going to try and do this review without any major spoilers.
First of all, I want to talk about the structure of the book, which is really the only thing I had an issue with, although I'm not sure how I would have done it differently. The chapters alternate, with one telling the story of Anastasia from the point where the Bolshevicks begin their rebellion and overthrow of the imperial family, through to the point of the execution. The other chapters are told from the point of view of Anna Anderson, starting in 1970 when the courts are ruling about whether or not they believe her claim, and work backward from there to 1918. This is the point where I had some trouble. I want to say that I think it was probably the right way to tell this book, allowing for the two stories to meet in the middle, but I sometimes found it hard to follow. A chapter would introduce a character and I would know I had heard the name before, but couldn't always remember the details. I think my problem might have stemmed more from the fact that I didn't read this book straight through - the last 100 pages or so I read in a much shorter span of time and had no trouble keeping characters straight. So I definitely recommend just reading this one through and not taking your time with it. In general I'm not always a huge fan of weird timelines like this, but while I didn't necessarily love reading it this way, it definitely made the most sense for the book. I don't think it would have worked otherwise.
Second, the plot. Now, anyone who knows any Anastasia Romanov history knows that the woman named Anna Anderson is a real person and really did claim to be Anastasia, but that it was later proved that she was not Anastasia - Anastasia unfortunately died with the rest of her family in 1918. This is not a spoiler. This is actual historical fact. What I didn't know going into this book - and what I won't reveal in this review - is how the author was going to use these facts. Was she presenting the book as an actual true account, or was she using these real people and writing a fictional account: "What if Anna Anderson really was Anastasia?" I didn't know. Which made the book interesting (and which is why I'm not revealing it here.) All I will say is that when the two stories reach their conclusion in 1918, I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
Overall, I'm not quite sure how to rate this book. I found the plot to be enjoyable as a whole. I much preferred the Anastasia chapters to the Anna chapters, however. I thought that, at times, the Anna story dragged a bit - it covered a large number of years, but not a whole lot happened. They weren't bad, and they were well written, I just found that overall I found Anna's timeline more interesting and kept wanting to get back to it. I did find the book as a whole to be well-written and well-researched, though, and overall I liked it, even though there were a few chapters that dragged and despite my initial problems with following the reverse timeline. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Anastasia story or who enjoys historical fiction.