Review: I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

5:38 PM

I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon | Rating: ★★★☆☆

“The thing Anna has always hated most about being a small woman is the disadvantage she has in situations like this. People assume they can touch you, pat you, shake your hand without permission. They assume that if your size is little more than that of a child, you must be one. That you can be talked down to or coerced. It is hard for a small person to be intimidating or to be taken seriously. This lack of stature has forced Anna to develop other skills through the years: to sharpen her wit, to treat her tongue like a blade and her mind like a whetstone.” 

Like so many people my age, I first heard of the Romanov family through the animated film Anastasia. It wasn't until years later--when I was only just a teenager--that I began to understand the story behind the highly romanticized tale. I was horrified and intrigued. The year in question, we were watching a documentary in history class on Romanov imposters. I don't recall the details of which imposters were talked about, but I remember asking myself: "What would possess someone to feign their identity as a long lost member of the imperial family, who were long dead?"

There is still a part of me that wonders what it was they were thinking. Financial gain. Mental illness. There were so many possibilities. I Was Anastasia is a highly vivid historical fiction release that is told backwards, and in split narration. We begin at the end of the life of Anna Anderson, one of the most infamous faux Anastasia impersonators, and the way the story unfolds from their is unique and engrossing.

We then see the youngest Romanov princess, Anastasia, in what would be the finale of her life.

Both narrations are richly drawn in their own way, that leads readers wondering themselves if Anna is or isn't Anastasia. Even in those moments where you know history, you can't help but to have that little flicker of hope--that maybe, just maybe, history changed. 

Lawhon portrays both fictionalized versions of the girls wonderfully. Although there are moments in the narration that drag, or grow confusing, or trigger certain things (see: implied sexual abuse, harm of animals, and the most obvious of all, murder)  the story remains quite compelling in its tone. I was fascinated by I Was Anastasia, despite its many inaccuracies and fell down the rabbit hole quite quickly.

Because of its occasional inaccuracies, the sensational nature of certain things that "happened" during the family's time in captivity, it does fall victim to its own nature. This is quite common in historical fiction, so it's hardly something to raise a fist over.

I Was Anastasia is exactly as its meant to be: fiction set in real life. And I appreciate it for it. I think my favourite portions of the novel were the ones solely from Anna Anderson's POV. What a strange, emotionally complex woman. I enjoyed reading the almost sassy-tone the story took on in its start and end, the way Anna seemingly speaks out to the readers.

Overall, I enjoyed I Was Anastasia in the way that I enjoy the legend of Anastasia seen in film and on stage. There are moments when these sorts of stories do unsettle me, knowing the real story of her and her family, but for the most part I Was Anastasia was an enjoyable, flawed, read.

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