I Was Anastasia
By: Ariel Lawhon
Anastasia Romanov was one the daughters of the last Czar of Russia. The family was taken prisoner during the revolution and disappeared. (No one learned until decades later what their actual fate had been.) A couple of years later a young woman throws herself off a bridge in Germany. She later comes to be known as Anna Anderson but for many people she was the Duchess Anastasia.
I’m not sure if I should mark spoilers or not but if you aren’t aware of the real life story or it’s resolution and you want to go into the book that way- you probably shouldn’t keep reading.
Not only was Anastasia’s fate left up in the air after the fall of the Empire at that point there was nothing like DNA testing. Anna Anderson was never accepted by the family but her fight for Anastasia’s name (and mostly importantly her inheritance) would take up the rest of her life and many other people’s as well.
The story is told from the end of Anna’s fight backward to the bridge and from the fall of the Romanov’s forward until Anastasia meets her bloody end.
I’ve long been fascinated with the story of Anastasia Romanov and this is a quick enjoyable read. It’s well written although I have to admit I found it hard to like Anna in this one. And she says you probably won’t. We know Anastasia’s fate beyond a doubt now and we know the truth about Anna. Lawhon might play with your expectations a bit but she doesn’t shirk from it in the end.
I think that’s what really got to me. As much as I knew I still wanted to believe. I wanted that happy ending for the girl who loved her family and her dogs and tried her best. Lawhon calls it out as well. How we want the myth against our better judgement. How we long for the happy ending even when there’s no mystery to it. Probably because she dies so young in every presentation I’ve seen or read Anastasia is presented as a very likable young woman. And while I knew better I felt a little put out I didn’t get that happy end.
Anna says that Anastasia needed her to survive and in terms of story- maybe that’s true. But you can’t shy away from the part the quest for her money and power played for everyone involved. It felt more like she was being used and I’m not sure that was Lawhon’s intention to make me dislike Anna. I felt bad for her sure. But I wasn’t very fond of her otherwise.
The Anna parts also move fairly quickly through history so you never get anything to in-depth while Anastasia is a small period of time where you get a brutal look at her and her families captivity.
In that regard beware- the guards escalate violence against the sisters that ends with rape one night and the families end is described in horrible detail.
There is a great cameo by Ingrid Bergman who won an Academy Award for playing her. I’ve always loved Bergman so that was my favorite part of the book and she touches on some nice themes about playing a character and generally being hated. (If you like Hollywood history you should read a couple of biographies about Ingrid Bergman. Fascinating woman.)
Recommend: Yes. Overall it’s a quick read I think especially if you’re new to the story.