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!