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.