"Compelling and utterly fascinating...drifts far into the mysterious lives of Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson." —Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours
Ariel Lawhon, a rising star in historical suspense, unravels the extraordinary twists and turns in Anna Anderson's fifty-year battle to be recognized as Anastasia Romanov. Is she the beloved daughter, revered icon, and Russian grand duchess or is she an imposter, liar, and the thief of another woman's legacy?
Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn.
Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia, where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.
Germany, February 17, 1920: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water or even acknowledge her rescuers, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious young woman claims to be the Russian grand duchess.
As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre at Ekaterinburg, old enemies and new threats are awakened. The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling saga is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Folie à Deux
1970 & 1968
Charlottesville, Virginia, February 17, 1970
Fifty years ago tonight Anna threw herself off a bridge in Berlin. It wasn’t her first brush with death, or even the most violent, but it was the only one that came at her hands. Anna’s husband does not know this, however. She watches him, watching her, and she knows he only sees a fragile old woman who has waited too long for vindication. He sees the carefully cultivated image she presents to the world: a crown of thinning, silver hair and tired blue eyes. Age and confusion and the gentle aura of. This could not be further from the truth. She has been many things through the years but—even at seventy-four—helpless is not one of them. At the moment, however, Anna is simply impatient. She sits in this living room, two thousand miles from her past, waiting for a verdict.
Jack is like a frightened rabbit, all nerves and tension. He springs from his chair and begins to pace through the cluttered den. “Why haven’t they called? They should have called by now.”
“I’m sure they read the verdict hours ago,” Anna says, leaning her head against the fold of her wingback chair and closing her eyes.
Whatever news awaits them is not good but Anna does not have the heart to tell him this. Jack is so hopeful. He’s already written the press release and taken a polaroid so he can bring both to The Daily Progress first thing in the morning. Jack spoke with the editor this afternoon, suggesting they reserve a front-page spot for the story. He’s hoping for something above the fold. He’s hoping for exclamation points.
Even though Jack hasn’t admitted it, Anna knows that he is looking forward to reporters showing up again. They haven’t had any in months and she suspects he’s gotten lonely with only her and the animals for company. She feels a bit sad for him, being saddled with her like this. But there was no other way. Gleb insisted on it, and in all the years she knew him, Gleb Botkin remained her truest friend, her staunchest champion. He’s been dead two years now. Another loss in an unending string of losses. And Jack is kind to her—just as Gleb promised—and beggars can’t be choosers anyway. Anna reminds herself of this daily.
The phone rings. Three startling metallic alarms and then Jack snatches it from the cradle.
“Manahan residence.” A pause, and then, “yes, she’s here. Hold on a moment.” The cord won’t stretch across the room so Jack lays it on the sideboard. He grins wildly. “It’s from Germany.”
“The Prince.” He beams, then clarifies—there have been a number of princes in her life. “Frederick.”
Anna feels a wild stab of anger at the name. She hasn’t forgotten what Frederick did, hasn’t forgotten the burn pile behind her cottage at the edge of the Black Forest. All those charred little bones. If the news had come from anyone else she would take the call. “I don’t want to speak with him.”
“He knows why.”
“I really think it’s time you—”
Anna holds her hand up, palm out, a firm, final sort of motion. “Take a message.”
Jack pouts but doesn’t protest. He knows that arguing is futile. Anna does not change her mind. Nor does she forgive. He picks up the receiver again. “I’m sorry. She doesn’t want to speak right now. Why don’t you give me the news?”
And then she watches Jack’s countenance fall by tiny, heartbreaking increments. First his smile. Then his lifted, expectant brows. His right arm drops to his side, deflated. “I don’t understand,” he says, finally, then clears his throat as though he’s swallowed a cobweb.
“Write it down,” Anna instructs. “Word for word.” She doesn’t want to interpret the verdict through his anger once he hangs up. Anna wants to know exactly what the appeals court has to say. Jack is too emotional and prone to exaggeration. He needs to transcribe it or vital bits of information will be lost the moment he hangs up. Gleb wouldn’t need this instruction. He would know what to do. He would know what questions to ask. But Gleb is no longer here and, once again this reality leaves her feeling adrift.
“Let me write this down,” Jack says, like it’s his idea. She watches him shuffle through piles of paper on the cluttered sideboard, looking for a notebook with blank pages. Finding none, he grabs an envelope and turns it over. “Go ahead. I’m ready.”
A decade ago Anna’s lawyer told her this lawsuit was the longest running case in German history. This appeal has stretched it into something worse, something interminable. And there stands Jack, writing the footnote to her quest on the back of their electric bill in his tidy, ever-legible script. “How do you spell that?” he asks at one point, holding the phone with one hand and recording the verdict with the other. He doesn’t rush or scribble but rather pens each word with painstaking precision, occasionally asking Frederick to repeat himself.
Jack and Anna don’t have many friends. They haven’t been married long, only two years, and theirs is a relationship based on convenience and necessity, not romance. They are old and eccentric and not fit for polite society in this quaint college town. But a handful of people—mostly former professors at the University of Virginia, like Jack—are due to arrive shortly. Anna doesn’t want to know how he convinced them to come. It would have been awkward before. It will be excruciating now. Anna decides there won’t be a party tonight. She doesn’t have the heart to entertain strangers this evening.
But Jack, in all his eagerness, has catered for a celebration. Their small den is littered with trays of fruit and sandwiches. Deviled eggs and cheese platters. Tiny brined pickles and cocktail sausages skewered with toothpicks. He even bought three bottles of champagne and they sit in a bowl of ice, unopened beneath the string of Christmas lights he’s stapled to the ceiling. Anna stares at the bottles with suspicion. She hasn’t touched the stuff in almost four decades. The last time Anna drank champagne she ended up naked on a rooftop in New York City.
The entire setting is tacky and festive—just like her husband. Jack bought a rhinestone tiara from the costume shop near the college campus just for the occasion. It sits on a gaudy red velvet pillow next to the champagne. He’s been dying to crown her since they met and only today, only in the hopes of a positive verdict, has she humored him. But that hope is gone now. Snuffed out in a German courtroom on the other side of the world.
“Thank you,” he finally says, and then lower, almost a whisper, “I will. I’m sorry. You know how it can be with her. I’m sure she’ll speak with you next time. Goodbye.”
When he turns back to Anna, Jack has the envelope pressed to his chest. He doesn’t speak.
“We need to call our guests and tell them the party’s cancelled.”
He looks crushed. “I’m so sorry.”
“This isn’t your fault. You did what you could.” A deep breath. A shrug. “What did Frederick say?”
“Your appeal was rejected. They won’t reverse the lower court’s ruling.”
“I gathered that. Tell me his words exactly.”
Jack looks to the paper. “They regard your claim as a ‘non liquet.’”
“What does that mean?”
“‘Not clear’ or ‘not proven.’”
When Jack frowns, he puckers his mouth until his upper lip nearly touches his nose. It’s an odd, childish expression and one he’s used with greater frequency the longer he has known her. “Is that German?”
“You know Latin?”
“Very little at this point.” Anna swats at him. “Go on.”
“The judges said that even though your death has never been proven, neither has your escape.”
“Ah. Clever.” She smiles at this dilemma. It is the ultimate Catch 22. Her escape can’t be proven without a formal declaration of identity from the court. “Read the rest please.”
He holds the envelope six inches from his nose and slowly recites the verdict. “‘We have not decided that the plaintiff is not Grand Duchess Anastasia, but only that the Hamburg court made it’s decision without legal mistakes and without procedural errors.’” He looks up. “So they have decided…nothing?”
She shakes her head slowly and then with more determination. “Oh they have decided everything, Jack.”
“It was that photo, wasn’t it? The court must have seen it. There’s no other reason they would rule against you. Damn that Rasputin. Damn her!” Jack begins to pace again. “We could make a statement—”
“No. It’s over.” Anna lifts her chin with all the dignity she can muster and folds her hands in her lap. She is resigned and regal. “They will never formally recognize me as Anastasia Romanov.”
Two Years Earlier
Charlottesville, Virginia, December 23, 1968
Anna does not want to marry Jack Manahan. She would rather marry Gleb. Even after all the trouble he’s caused through the years. But theirs is a story of false starts and near misses. Bad timing. Distance. And rash decisions. They were not meant to be. So Gleb has urged her to marry Jack instead. This whole fiasco is his idea—the courthouse, the silly pink dress, the bouquet of roses and pinecones, the white, rabbit fur hat that she’s supposed to wear out of the courthouse to greet the photographers (these arranged by Jack because the damnable man cannot help but make a scene everywhere he goes). Gleb insists the hat makes her look the part of Russian Grand Duchess. She refuses to wear the thing. Poor rabbit.
When they discussed this ridiculous plan in August, Gleb said his health was to blame, that he couldn’t marry her himself. He said that she would end up caring for him instead, but Anna believes that this is punishment for a long-held resentment. Tit for tat. Wound for wound. He has loved her for decades and she has never been able to fully reciprocate. Now he stands as witness to her unwilling nuptials. As best man, in fact.
It is snowing outside the courthouse. Not the angry, hard, blistering shards of snow she’s used to in Germany, but fat, lethargic flakes that drift and flutter and take their time getting to the ground. Lazy snow. American snow.
Anna’s had only a single a tryst since that limpid summer in Bavaria all those years ago, but Gleb moved on. Got married. Had children. They’ve never talked about the intervening years and it’s not worth bringing up now. Anna is seventy-two—too old to get married at all, much less for the first time. Jack Manahan is twenty years her junior. A former professor enamored with Russian history, with her—or, at least, the idea of her. Regardless, he hasn’t put up much of a fight since being presented with the plan. Jack’s only show of hesitation was a long, curious look at Gleb. Assessing his attachment and willingness to let Anna go.
It occurred to her, far too late into this arrangement, that she had not considered the issue of sex. Jack is young. Younger at least. And she is…well…she is not. The idea of consummation almost caused her to back out entirely. All of those hormones have shriveled up, turned to dust, and blown away. Desire is little more than a fond memory these days.
Gleb has taken care of that issue as well, however, assuring her that sex isn’t a necessary part of this bargain. She and Jack will have separate bedrooms. This will be a legal marriage, enough to keep her in the United States once her visa expires in three weeks, but it will be a marriage of convenience only. Gleb swore this, endless times, over what ended up being their last shared bottle of wine. Jack will not set a hand on her. Unless she wants him to. Why Gleb added that last part she isn’t sure. He wouldn’t meet her eyes as he said it and she said nothing in return. It was a small cruelty. This is how it is with them, apparently. Little wounds. Paper cuts. Just enough to sting but not really harm. Perhaps it’s best that they aren’t marrying one another after all.
Gleb slips into the antechamber beside the courtroom and surveys her tiny, slender form. “You look nice.”
He looks weary and pale and infirm. He’s lost weight recently and his once broad shoulders seem to have narrowed with illness and age. Anna wants to ask Gleb if his heart has gotten worse. But she’s afraid of what his answer might be. So she says. “I look ridiculous.”
“All brides look ridiculous. That’s why they’re so charming.”
Anna turns back to the window. It’s late afternoon, getting darker by the moment, and the overhead light bounces off the glass, throwing her reflection back at her. She touches a hand to her cheek. Traces one deep wrinkle after another, each of them telling a story she’s long since decided to cast into the sea of forgetfulness.
“I am too old for this,” she says.
“You admit it then?” She studies his reflection too, hovering over her shoulder. “But no apology I see.”
“It is this or you return to Germany,” he says. “We are out of time.”
“That always seems to be the case with us, doesn’t it?”
“Ships in the night,” he whispers and sets a large, warm hand on her shoulder. “Are you ready? Sergeant Pace is waiting. So is Jack.”
“Judge Morris called in sick this morning.”
Anna turns to him and looks, not at his face, but at the knot in his tie. Stares at the red and blue alternating stripes on the fabric, those thin lines circling back on themselves, all twisted and turned around. She’s knotted up as well, but now, suddenly, it’s with mirth.
“I am to be married,” she asks, tilting her chin to meet those twinkling green eyes, “not by a priest, or a judge, but by a police officer?”
“It gives an entirely new meaning to being read your rights, doesn’t it?”
They laugh, then, long and loud. She turns back to the window and they stand in comfortable silence, watching Charlottesville disappear beneath the snow.
Finally Anna leans her head back against Gleb’s chest. “How did I get here?” Anna sighs, already knowing the answer. She has gotten here, she has survived, by always doing the thing that needs to be done.
Reading Group Guide
I WAS ANASTASIA
These discussion questions are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon.
1. I Was Anastasia is an unusually structured novel that moves backward and forward in time. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in this way?
2. When we first meet Anna Anderson, she is not an easy character to like. As you learned more about her past, did your opinion of her change?
3. How do you interpret Anna’s hoarding tendencies, especially with regard to animals?
4. Anna’s story is told in the third person; Anastasia’s story in the first person. What are your thoughts on the different points of view? Which did you prefer?
5. People often think of Anastasia Romanov in terms of the 1997 animated film. Yet this book does not portray her as a typical Disney princess. Were you glad to see a different side to this historic figure? Or did it bother you?
6. The bombing of Hannover (October 8, 1943) is a dramatic and terrifying scene in the book. Do you think you could display the same level of resilience if you were in Anna’s shoes?
7. The longer the Romanovs were in captivity, the smaller their world became, until they were confined to a handful of rooms. They each handled the boredom and oppression differently. What would you have done in their situation?
8. Do your thoughts about Anna’s identity shift as the novel progresses? Does she become more (or less) believable as we travel back in time with her?
9. Did reading this novel inspire you to find out more about the Romanovs?
10. The Romanovs are not the only royal family to come to a tragic end, yet their story endures as few have. What do you think contributes to the timeless fascination—that of Anastasia in particular?
11. Discuss the ending of the novel. How did it affect your feelings about the novel as a whole?
12. Did the Author’s Note change your opinion about the ending?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have had a lifelong fascination with Anastasia Romanov and being half Russian always added to my interest. I think I have read almost every book ever written about the Romanov family both fiction and non fiction. I have always preferred fiction to fact anyway. When I first heard of Anna Anderson the romantic that I am really believed she was Anastasia and when DNA tests proved otherwise I was disappointed. But of all the things I have read this novel is by far the best. Five stars is not enough. I can not say too much because I do not want to spoil it for you. I want you to read it!
You might have heard about Anna Anderson and her claim (to fame) to be Anastasia Romanov. But, if you haven't, then I suggest you google her and read up on her life. Anna Anderson's life was very interesting and it has btw been made into a movie with Ingrid Bergman and a miniseries with Amy Irving. I've seen both since I find the Romanov's a captivated subject. I was curious to see how of Ariel Lawhon would construct the story since much has happened since Anna Anderson died in 1984. Now I take for granted that you know all about that, but if you don't know, then I will spoil the story a bit. Or rather I will reveal some truth's that may or may not be included in this book. So, read on if you dare! Since Anna Anderson died in 1984 has two things happened, for one thing, has DNA showed that she was not Anastasia, and also the graves of the Romanov's family has been found with the bones of ALL the children. So, how do you write a book when this is well-known? Easy, you make the both Anna and Anastasia's stories so believable that you want it to be true. All through the book does Anastasia's story interlopes with Anna's. We get to follow Anastasia through the years in captivity while Anna's story we get from the end unto the beginning. And, Anna's chapters. It's like reading a book backward. But, it works. It's very different, but it works so well. It's like two cars moving towards each other and you know they will crash, but you can't stop them! I Was Anastasia is a great book. Reading the author's note at the end, where she wrote about wanting to believe that the story would be true made me realize that she made me want to believe that it's true that Anna was Anastasia. Because deep down we all want the story to have a happy ending...
The constant shifting in the timeline of the story confused me at times. Anna’s timeline is all over the place and I would have preferred to have hers go chronologically like Anastasia’s. I really liked Anastasia’s POV but couldn’t get into Anna’s. This book re-sparked my interest in the Romanovs and now I need to go read some NF books about them.
Anna is a miserable woman. She is scarred, lost, depressed and damaged in more ways than one. Is she who she says she is? She claims to be Anastasia Romanov. Is she? You need to read this to find out! I love the history of this book. It has been a while since I visited with the Romanovs. This was a highlight for me but, parts of this novel are so hard to read. The tragedy surrounding the Romanovs’ lives and their deaths are heart wrenching. The only reason this is not getting five stars from me is because of the time line. It is non linear. This made the story more confusing but, that was the brilliant plan of the author. To keep you off balance, which you will realize when you get to the end of the book. Their is a reason she wants you off balance. All in all, I enjoyed this book very much. Anna, the Romanovs, and the history really create a wonderful tale. I received this novel from Netgalley for a honest review.
As readers move through the novel, they may feel torn -- longing for the tragedy that befalls Anastasia and her family to not happen and an urgency for Anna’s lie to be put to bed and end quickly. This dissonance doesn’t play well and causes the novel to drag most of its 300 pages especially during Anna’s chapters which come across as brash and uncaring until the start of her story is reached.
This book was fantastic. I requested this book because I have always been interested the Romanov's. This story was written in two time lines: the point of view of Anna moving backwards and the point of view Anastasia moving forward until the very last page where they meet in the middle and we find out the truth..... What happened to Anastasia and is Anna REALLY a Romanov. This story was tragic. Some of the content was hard to read simply because of the subject matter but it was the harsh truth. The reality of being a prisoner of war. This isn't a fairy tale and nothing was romanticized in any way. I had to walk away twice but kept coming back to see what happened. To learn the truth and all I have to say is WOW.
This story was pretty much written backwards with Anastasia's early life thrown in as you read along. I was mesmerized by this story. A lost princess, one who was originally thought dead. One that caused quite a bit of controversy over her life. It was amazing to me, how complete strangers would take her in just because they thought she was Anastasia even when the royal palace confirmed that she wasn't. Her story sounded so real, I wanted to believe it. The author gives you a little background at the beginning and leaves it to the reader to decide whether to believe this woman claiming to be "Anastasia". I want to believe it, because I want something good to come out of the suffering her family felt. However, logic makes you wonder. This was an absolutely excellent read that I could not put down! Thanks to Doubleday Books and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Imagine being a princess in a time of hatred and war. Imagine seeing your family being killed before your eyes, barely escaping yourself. Would you let the world know who you are? Would you constantly run in fear because everyone wants your fortune? Or would you have to prove what is rightfully yours? I was Anastasia is just this and more. A compelling story about the Russian princess who goes from a life of luxury, to the fall of an empire, back to trying to get what is rightfully hers. Ariel Lawhon captivates us with the historical knowledge of the events, while putting a personal spin on the matter. You learn a lot about the family and those they trust and learn to not trust. Anastasia learns the hard way who can really be trusted in your time of need. After countless fails at trying to prove who she is, will someone see Anna for who she really is? Anna stays within her confidants and hopes for the best while we learn the trials and tribulations that her family faced. Once a princess, always a princess no matter who or what stands in her way. The scars don’t lie but will they bring justice to Anna. This book is a solid four stars and teaches you a lot about the era and what happened in 1900’s Russia. **Review by Terren, Late Night Reviewer for Up All Night w/ Books**
Anna Anderson has spent over fifty years of her life fighting to prove she is the Grand Duchess Anastasia. Her story begins near the end as she battles in court to get recognition. Anastasia is 18 months away from that fateful night in Yekaterinburg. Does she in fact survive? I love the time line set up in this book. It is an amazing idea to have both women moving toward each other like trains on the same track. The moment they collide will be the moment we learn the truth. While I do not like Anna on a personal level, I appreciate how cunning, clever, and totally insane she is. She is one of most interesting characters I have ever read. I appreciate the amount of research that must have went into this novel. While it is a work of fiction, I bet that was a time consuming task. The only criticism I can possibly have for this book is the very thing I like most: The Timeline. Some readers may find the nonlinear design difficult to follow. I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon is a work of historical fiction. It is the prefect marriage of creativity and intelligence. From her character development to the time line set up, it is an amazing piece of work. I Was Anastasia will be published March 27, 2018 by Doubleday Books. I give this book a 5 out of 5 stars rating. It is by far the best book I have read this year. I would recommend it to any lover of the Romanov history or historical fiction lover. However, I do recommend doing some research first. I have a good deal of knowledge on the Romanovs and that improved my experience with this book.
Ariel Lawhon has done a great job with this historical novel based in part on the known facts surrounding the imprisonment and deaths of Tzar Romanov and his immediate family and the years of the patiently seeking of Anastasia through gossip and rumour. The backgrounds, the press, travel and even the food and clothing are indicative of these times, the world as it was between the world wars. The extensive research behind this novel is obvious with each page turned. Ms. Lawhon paints her world with both it's beauty and it's flaws. This is a book very hard to put aside. I am very pleased to find this author and will add her to my growing 'must read' list. And I promise to try to remember to never read her Author's Note before the novel. Thank you Netgalley! I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, Ariel Lawhon, and Doubleday Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.
I Was Anastasia is the amazing story of Anna Anderson, a woman who claimed to be, Anastasia Romanov, the Grand Duchess of Russia, and the only family member to survive the Romanov massacre of 1918. This book is riveting, absorbing, and disturbing. I was engrossed from the first page. The author’s writing is exquisite. Ariel Lawhon, cleverly, and meticulously, described the life of Anastasia Romanov and how Anna Anderson, struggled to prove to the world, that she was the Russian Grand Duchess. I completely lost track of time while reading this amazing novel. It’s obvious that the author thought about each sentence in this book, choosing and placing each word carefully, for maximum effect. The author’s writing is so sharp and raw that the pages came alive for me. The only thing I had difficulty with was the frequent time changes, i.e., one month later, two weeks earlier, etc. The book tells the story of Anna Anderson/ Anastasia Romanov while in Russia, Germany, and America. It also describes some of the despair and pain she had endured as a homeless person on the run, as a prisoner, and as a patient in an insane asylum. I was unaware of the Russian Romanov family history when I started this book, so it truly was an eye-opener for me. The book is fascinating, haunting, and unforgettable. Thank you, Doubleday Books and NetGalley, for my advanced review copy.
My Review of “I Was Anastasia” by Ariel Lawhon Ariel Lawhon, Author of “I Was Anastasia” started with a unique premise of writing about two historical figures, Anastasia Romanov and Anna Anderson. The author teases us at the beginning of the story to read and see if we believe that Anastasia Romonav really survived. I appreciate the hours of historical research that the author has spent. I was really looking forward to this read. The Genres for this novel are Fiction and Historical Fiction. The characters are described as complex and complicated. I found that the timeline in this novel was confusing. There were many chapters and places that would say: 4 days before, 3 days before, 7 weeks after. I also found it difficult to relate to the two characters, Anastasia Romonav and Anna Anderson. Some of the events were not clear. Also this is my bias, and I feel I have to mention it for those who love animals. There is vivid and explicit description of what happened to the beloved pets. If I had been aware of this before hand, I would have had the choice to read or not read. I am an animal lover, and perhaps it is not fair to mention this, but I would have preferred that knowledge before hand. I would recommend this novel for those readers that appreciate novels of Historical Fiction especially dealing with Anastasia Romonav. I also would like to mention that not every reader appreciates the same genre or the same book in the same way. I received an ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
I just wish the author didn’t jump around so much in the book.
I may re-read to pick up all the details!