ANASTASIA: The Riddle of Anna Anderson by Peter Kurth

ANASTASIA: The Riddle of Anna Anderson

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

'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