Reading I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon is a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. You start with the edges and work your way back towards the middle. Lawhon tells the first-person narrative of Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, but mixes it in with a third-person narrative of Anna Anderson. Both are real people, with well-documented stories, despite having occurred during the twentieth century.
Anastasia was the fourth daughter of the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. She and her siblings lived a privileged life with tutors, jewels, and Imperial palaces. That is, until the Russian Revolution happened in 1918. Lawhon follows the dramatic change in status, while also revealing Anastasia’s impish and spirited personality.
It’s impossible not to anticipate the heart wrenching end of the Romanov family. But Lawhon blends the before and after stories together by concurrently telling Anna Anderson’s story. Anderson was pulled from a Berlin river in 1920. Her uncanny resemblance to Anastasia was just the beginning of many decades of mystery about her true identity.
Author Lawhon put her readers in the front seat of a roller coaster that doesn’t know which way to turn. One chapter is about Anna, the next is Anna but one year earlier. Then a chapter or two focus on Anastasia. This isn’t a book to be skimmed and read with haphazard attention.
The intriguing part of the story is Anna Anderson, and whether she’s truly Anastasia. Don’t peek on Wiki for the details! (I confess to doing so when I’m reading historical fiction.)
I admit to finding both characters hard to relate to. Anastasia’s life has no parallels in my own existence, which I suppose is a good thing. I found her to be a mostly charming teen.
On the other hand, Anderson’s imperious nature quickly grew tiresome. She was quirky, but not in a good way. It can’t have been easy to constantly fight for your identity, and Lawhon doesn’t romanticize the reality.
Lawhon is a nimble storyteller. Her narrative structure made the book both interesting and frustrating. But ultimately the pieces fit together and the picture is clear. The patience it takes to get there is rewarded with a satisfying conclusion. Now I want to read The Romanov Sisters, which is sitting in my shelves!
Thanks to NetGalley, Doubleday Books, and the author for a digital ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.