I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Historical Fiction, 352 pages, published in 2018

Synopsis: In 1920, when a woman who resembles like Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov is pulled out of a canal in Germany two years after her supposed death, she has everyone questioning if the Romanov family did survive their execution. Told from the perspective of Anastasia during her family’s exile and imprisonment leading up to 1918 and Anna Anderson, the most famous Anastasia impersonator, this story explores the truth of what happened on July 17th, 1918.

Spoiler Free Review:

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I had seen this book around, but I wasn’t sure if I was really interested in it, but when I saw it at a used book sale for ultra cheap, I figured it was too good to pass up. I know a bit about Anastasia. I loved the animated movie as a kid and saw the Broadway musical last year. This year, I also read Romanov, a YA fantasy retelling of these events. This urged me to look more into the events as they actually happened. The killing of the Romanov family makes me really emotional for some reason, so that’s why I was kind of on the edge about this book.

I think this story did a good job staying pretty close to the actual historical events while still adding depth to characters and making the story flow. The format of this book was particularly interesting. It follows Anastasia from her initial imprisonment in the Alexander Palace in 1917 forward to the night of the execution in the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg on July 18th, 1918. Her parts are told in first person. The other perspective is told by Anna Anderson, starting in 1970 when no one could establish if she actually was Anastasia or not going backward to 1918. It was very interesting to see a story told backward because you already know how things end but the point of this story is how things began. Her sections are told in third person.

My only issue with this backwards storytelling was that I didn’t have any context for who people were, so I didn’t know if they were or weren’t important. I definitely don’t remember the end of Anna’s chronological story as well as I remember the beginning of Anastasia’s, even though they were at the same spot in the book.

This definitely kept me guessing until the end. The big question of the book is if Anna Anderson is truly Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov and if she is, how did she survive? I will say, you do get the answer to this question, so it won’t leave you hanging with an open ending.

Historical fiction has a way of always reminding of the how terrible people can be to one another. This is generally why I have mixed feelings on the genre, and this book definitely also made me feel that way. There was rape in this book, as well as brutal violence and the mutilation of a corpse. These things were hard for me to get through. They aren’t things I necessarily want to be reminded of.

It feels weird to say I enjoyed this book, but I appreciated it, no matter how uncomfortable it made me. I think the unique format of storytelling alone makes this book very compelling!

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