Novelist Ariel Lawhon imagines the lives of Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the Tsar thought to be executed in 1918 by the Bolsheviks, and Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be Anastasia, revealing herself after surviving the Revolution in hiding.
The author’s effortless, eloquent prose transports the reader via a dramatic, suspenseful and satisfying work of historical fiction ... Lawhon brilliantly employs an inventive and non-linear dual narrative to tell the tale of how Anastasia would become Anna Anderson, or, perhaps, how Anna became Anastasia ... In the end, what Lawhon does so convincingly is shake up our notion of identity.
Lawhon’s extensive research traces Anna’s steps backward from 1970, when a Hamburg court determines that her claim is 'not proven.' In the years leading up to this moment, she is institutionalized, interviewed by Anastasia’s family and contemporaries, and romanticized in plays and movies ... Though DNA evidence has finally proven what happened to the Romanov family, Lawhon’s labyrinthine tale remains fascinating to the end.
The suspense hinges on the reader’s unfamiliarity with the real history, and John Boyne’s The House of Special Purpose (2013), also about Anastasia, handles the dual-chronology structure more smoothly. However, Anna’s narrative, involving institutionalizations, glamorous excursions, legal battles, and meetings with people who want to support, exploit, or debunk her, compels with its many contrasts. Recommended mainly for readers unacquainted with this twentieth-century mystery or anyone interested in Anna Anderson’s troubled life.