Wednesday, September 5, 2018

I Was Anastasia

Title:  I Was Anastasia
Author:  Ariel Lawhon
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2018. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0385541694 / 978-0385541695

Book Source:   I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "If I tell you what happened that night in Ekaterinburg I will have to unwind my memory - all the twisted coils - and lay it in your palm."

Favorite Quote:  "When you've lived as long as I have you take each day at a time. I've not settled on any firm plan."

The story of Anna Anderson is known history. The mystery of what happened to Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, the youngest child of the Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra has long been solved. The story began with the 1918 execution of the Romanovs by communist revolutionaries. Anastasia's story eventually found a resolution in 2007. For decades, the mystery remained, and many offered solutions. Many claimed to be Anastasia. Of these, Anna Anderson is perhaps the most famous. Many books, movies, and theatrical productions, including one currently on Broadway, have told the story.

That being said, many of the stories are beautifully told. Knowing a history does not make reading a story of that history any less engaging or entertaining. This book, however, bills itself as a book of "historical suspense". Unfortunately, because the history is known - or rather because I know the history, the suspense in this book appears manufactured. Perhaps, that is my shortcoming as a reader who knows the history; my reaction may have been different had I not. Unfortunately, for me, the suspense does not ring true. I would have preferred emotion to suspense.

A big reason this book does not work for me is the circular structure. It weaves through several different time periods in several different locations. In fact, the book summary bills it as "a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents." First of all, that becomes confusing especially with abrupt jumps within the same chapter; even paying attention to the dates at the beginning of sections, I was at times lost. Secondly, the time periods and locations are sometimes so different that the jump is jarring. Third, some characters carry from time period to time period and some don't, making the trajectory of relationships at times hard to track. Finally, such a structure runs the risk of breaking the emotional connection with a story, and unfortunately, for me, that is what happens. This story has been told many times for a simple reason - it captures the imagination; it does not really need the embellishment of such literary techniques.

The story of Anna Anderson itself is a fascinating one. Unfortunately, this book does not really delve into the psychological reasoning of her actions and their consequences. It is an interesting take away in a book wholly centered on Anastasia/Anna and in which parts are told in her voice - a first person narrative. The opening and the closing of the book in fact are her addressing the reader directly. At the beginning, it is intriguing pulling the reader in. The tone of the book then goes in a different direction, only to pull back to that personal note at the very end. At the end of a circular three hundred and fifty some pages, that tone is somewhat patronizing and sadly annoying.

I would love to hear the perspective of a reader not familiar with the history. Perhaps, the fault lies with me, and I am simply not the reader for this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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