Somewhat overcomplicated but ultimately satisfying. Anastasia Romanov lives yet again!

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I WAS ANASTASIA

Anna Anderson’s claim to be Anastasia Romanov—sole survivor of the murder of the czar’s family during the Bolshevik Revolution—is explored in this drama of historical suspense.

In her third novel, Lawhon (Flight of Dreams, 2016, etc.) fictionalizes the story of a woman named Anna Anderson, who was pulled out of a canal in Germany after a 1920 suicide attempt. She claimed to be the surviving daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov. The czar, his wife, and his five children, along with a few family servants, were famously shot en masse…but this woman claims she escaped. Not only does she resemble Anastasia, but she has the scars on her body that would necessarily be there if she had survived the shooting, and in the course of the 50-year period during which she makes this claim, she wins important supporters, including a childhood friend of the czarevna—as well as many detractors, particularly among the extended Romanov family. Lawhon tells Anna’s story in reverse: from 1970 in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she awaits the results of the final German court ruling on her identity, going backward to 1920, when she was pulled out of the canal. Anastasia’s tale is told in the first person in the opposite direction, starting in 1917 with the Romanovs being taken prisoner in their palace and going forward through their exile in Siberia to the night of the murders. This makes a certain amount of sense, as it allows the story to converge on the moment of truth, when we will find out if Anna is, as she certainly seems to be, Anastasia. What pushes it a little too far from the point of view of readability is the decision to tell individual Anna chapters backward. So, for example, a chapter that covers the period 1928-29 starts in November ’29, then has a section set four months earlier, then six months earlier, then one month earlier, and so forth. Anna’s globe-trotting trials and tribulations are hard enough to follow without this level of intricacy. So the Anastasia story ends up being the more compelling of the two, hurtling as it does to its grisly ending. Then comes an interesting Author’s Note, where Lawhon discusses her process and decisions.

Somewhat overcomplicated but ultimately satisfying. Anastasia Romanov lives yet again!

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-54169-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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