Engaging examination of a false identity.

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A ROMANOV FANTASY

LIFE AT THE COURT OF ANNA ANDERSON

A scrupulously mined account of the woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Extensive research and interviews conducted by Welch (The Romanovs and Mr. Gibbes: The Story of the Englishman Who Taught the Children of Last Tsar, 2005, etc.) give historical heft to this fascinating story of a delusional factory worker who spent 60 years posing as royalty. On the evening of July 17, 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children, including 17-year-old Anastasia, were led into the basement of the Bolsheviks’ “House of Special Purpose” and shot. The soldiers were drunk, jewels sewn into the victims’ bodices caused bullets to ricochet, the scene was chaotic; nonetheless, according to eyewitness testimony, there were no imperial survivors. In the 1920s, a woman who went by the names Anna Anderson and Anna Tschaikovsky stepped forward, alleging to be Anastasia Nikolaievna. She offered no evidence and a spotty tale of escape, refusing to describe the night of her supposed assassination because it was too traumatic to discuss. Anderson was, in fact, unable even to speak Russian. Nonetheless, strangers and childhood friends received her with mixed reactions ranging from denial to conviction that she was the long-lost duchess. The most fascinating aspect of the book centers around her followers, the self-described “Anastasians,” and the lengths to which they extended themselves on her behalf. Of particular note is Gleb Botkin, son of the tsar’s physician, who was acquainted with Anastasia when they were children and subsequently devoted much of his life to advocating Anderson’s claim by writing fictionalized tomes inspired by her story. Ten years after Anderson’s death in 1984, DNA testing conclusively proved that she was not Anastasia, but Franziska Schanzkowska, a Polish peasant. Clues throughout the book ensure that Anderson’s unveiling doesn’t come as a surprise. The real question here is not her true identity, but what motivated her lies in the first place, a mystery about which Welch can only speculate.

Engaging examination of a false identity.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-393-06577-0

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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