When I was a young teenager I watched the film Anastasia on television and was completely fascinated by the possibility that a woman who was called Anna Anderson was, in fact, Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of Tsar Nicolas II. The thought that when the Romanov family was assassinated in 1918 there was a survivor, Anastasia, was, to me, a wonderful thing.
The discovery this spring of a new novel, I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon, was a delight. If you do not already know the history of the story you will enjoy reading this even more than I did, as it is truly a captivating story.
The structure of the novel is as interesting as the story, for the author weaves together the past and the present, the beginning and the end of the story, commencing at the end of each and bringing them together as the truth is finally revealed.
The Russian Revolution of 1917 ended the reign of the Romanovs. When Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate, he and his family were held under house arrest, before being executed. The Russian Tsar, his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children, Duchess Olga, Duchess Maria, Duchess Tatiana, Duchess Anastasia, and the young Tsarevitch Alexei were brutally executed on 17 July 1918. Their assassination was the end of the monarchy, there were no heirs, and the Soviet Union under Vladimir Lenin was formed.
I Was Anastasia describes the life of the family before the tragedy, the happy times on their estate, and then the worry of the looming revolution, as the Tsar and his wife attempt to shelter their children. And, then, the terrible privations and assaults as the entire family are held captive, and then murdered.
But, there is also the story of Anna, who claims to be the daughter, Anastasia, and sole survivor. Anna Anderson’s story is compelling – many believed that she was truly Anastasia – but some may simply have been supporting her claim to enrich themselves. No one wanted to accept that the entire family was dead – that there was no hope for the future of the monarchy in Russia. This was a large family, connected to royalty across Europe and, of course, related to the British monarchy.
After the assassination the bodies of the Romanovs were thrown into a mineshaft and lay undiscovered until 1979, though two bodies were missing, Alexei and one of the daughters were not among the others. They were not found until 2007, some distance away, and all have now been confirmed, by DNA testing, to be the Romanov family. I was rather sad when DNA testing proved beyond a doubt that Anna Anderson was simply a convincing fraud.
Reading I Was Anastasia was a wonderful way to re-visit this fascinating story. The book begins with a quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” How I wish it was!