ANASTASIA: The Riddle of Anna Anderson by Peter Kurth

ANASTASIA: The Riddle of Anna Anderson

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'I think we're drowning in detail,' said Judge Werkmeister after two months on the 'Anastasia' ease."" And most readers will probably feel similarly about this 480-page documentary--which is more exhaustive than involving, lacking the selective focus needed to engage those who don't share Kurth's ""impassioned"" interest in the case. Two major points do emerge here: the miseries of Anna Anderson (whom Kurth implicitly but quite clearly believes to be the bona fide Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of Czar Nicholas II) were to some degree self-inflicted, with Anastasia's paranoia forever alienating her many well-wishers; still, the primary villains, in Kurth's view, were the Romanov survivors and their cohorts, ÉmigrÉs whose obsession with ""pride and appearances overruled compassion and condemned a human being to a life in a bitter universe of imputation and doubt."" Unfortunately, however, these points aren't dramatic enough to hold Kurth's narrative together--as it moves slowly (especially slowly in the 1920s) through each of Anastasia's encounters with a huge cast of ÉmigrÉs, Germans, Americans, doctors, and journalists. She is followed from a Berlin hospital in 1920 (after a suicide attempt) to first, disastrous meetings with Romanov relatives; from one indulgent protector to another (""The story was getting too familiar: Anastasia had thrown over one of her 'ladies-in-waiting' ""); from Germany to N.Y. for 18 ""tragi-comic months of life as the Toast of Society""; from breakdown to breakdown, winding up virtually kidnapped back to a German asylum; and then, after 25 quickly-sketched years as a virtual recluse, from one German court to another--suing for recognition as the Grand Duchess. Kurth, though never minimizing Anastasia's off-putting behavior, is a conscientious but partisan interpreter of the massive documentary materials at hand--sarcastically scorning the arguments of Anastasia's enemies, suggesting that mercenary motives (involving the perhaps-still-secreted Romanov fortune) were at work, finding ""a tendency on the judges' part to credit automatically the testimony of Anastasia's opponents. . . ."" (On final appeal, a higher court found the identity neither proven nor disproven.) He chronicles the dozens of tests, confrontations, and questions involved in the identity-quest. And his writing is always solid, sometimes stylish. Finally, however, this impressive amalgamation of far-flung sources seems to work fully neither as an evidence-summation nor as a study in period-and-personality (Anastasia herself remains elusive)--and only Anastasia buffs are likely to be steadily engrossed.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1983
Publisher: Little, Brown