Friday, March 11, 2011

Anastasia: The Lost Princess, James Blair Lovell

I've recently gotten a bit upset at myself for not having read much history or non fiction. It's a new goal to read one non fiction title a month. Seems reasonable, right? A week ago, I figured what better way to attain that goal starts on the correct footing than with one of history's mysteries... hopefully the previous sentence also maintained my History Channel cliche quota!

I realize that Lovell's research may seem irrelevant. Our more modernized, conclusive means of verifying bodily remains has proven that all the children of Czar Nicholas were killed with he and his wife, a scene rendered as quite harrowing within the early chapters of this particular book. However pointless nearly five hundred pages may seem with that in mind, the life of this woman and the struggles she faced surely makes for an interesting analysis of all of the historical research and legal proceedings that centered around Anna Anderson's lifelong journey to have herself recognized as the lost Romanov Princess, Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Lovell truly did this woman's life story justice, without ever really taking for granted that her story may not be the truth. He may seem to be taking Anderson's story as gospel, but what he's doing is merely presenting the facts as they could be interpreted. He painstakingly researches all of Anderson's correspondents, allies, contributors, and supporters.

There were decades of arguments with varying Romanov relatives and Bolshevik officials, votes of authenticity from the whole range of different European royals that could qualify for an opinion about Anastasia's fate. It's quite dry reading at times, but easy to keep up with thanks to Lovell's clear, concise prose. There's a fascinating barrage of characters, coloring the whole scope from perfectly malicious maniacs (Youssoupov, anyone) to former servants of the house of Romanov that remain loyal to Anderson their entire lives (Gleb Botkin).

The most disturbing part of this book is that so many relatives, friends, and Russian emigres did in fact believe Anderson; the whole world watched her while her case was argued over decades, and as she suffered numerous breakdowns. Onlookers were desperate to believe that the Revolution would not have so violently murdered the entire royal family, and clung to the image of this confused and lost young woman for solace in a war-torn, socially demoralized world.

Lovell died before the DNA test results came through, yet fully believed he had done the right thing in telling this woman's story. It is truly a revealing look at the process of untangling a historical mystery. Beware, though: sometimes the details of all the proceedings can seem a bit repetitive!

Anastasia: The Lost Princess
ISBN: 0312111339 

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