Book Review: “Resurrection of the Romanovs” by Greg King and Penny Wilson

In 1918, seventeen-year-old Anastasia Romanov was brutally murdered alongside her parents and four siblings. After her death, a series of impostors turned up, hoping to claim a nonexistent inheritance. Anna Anderson was the most famous of these, and her story captivated the world for decades.

In 1994, DNA testing was done to determine if Anna Anderson and Anastasia were one in the same. The tests proved that instead of Anastasia, Anna had actually been Franziska Schanzkowska, a young woman from Poland who had dreamed of being an actress.This news stunned Anna’s many surviving friends and supporters, who had been utterly convinced by her story. “Resurrection of the Romanovs” was written with the goal of answering many of the questions people still had about Anna Anderson and to give a detailed account of how she pulled it off. It does a pretty decent job of explaining, or providing possible explanations for, many of the little details of the story.

In 1920, the woman who would eventually be known as Anna Anderson was pulled out of a canal in Berlin after a suicide attempt. She stayed in a sanatorium for several months, refusing to disclose her identity. One of her fellow patients became convinced she was one of the missing Russian Grand Duchesses. That set Anna on a course that would change her entire life.

The book is divided up into three parts.The first part covers Anastasia Romanov’s background, as well as the events that led to her fate, and gives a good overview of the Romanov dynasty and the Russian Revolution. The second part is by far the longest and cover’s Anna Anderson’s life from 1920 on. The third part focuses on Franziska and her story, and how she ended up in that canal. The book is written with both those who know the story well and want new information to help fill in the blanks and people new to the story entirely. A lot of things are well explained, such as how Anna learned her supposedly “intimate” knowledge of the Romanov family, how she learned to imitate Anastasia’s signature, the methods she used to get people on her side. It’s far from perfect, and some things aren’t explained very well, like the motivations of some of Anna’s supporters, many of whom weren’t after money at all but stood by her knowing there was no financial benefit. This includes people like Gleb and Tatiana Botkin, who knew the real Anastasia, though perhaps not as well as they claimed to. Franziska, who had been the missing piece for many years, is also explored in detail. Her life was miserable, and it makes a lot of sense why she allowed herself to take on a completely new identity. It also becomes clear she was hardly a criminal mastermind but someone caught-up in something beyond her control until she reached the point where she had to maintain a lie or else lose everything.

There are some very interesting stories recounted in the book in great detail. Anna Anderson being confronted with her real family by the Nazis, who would send her to a camp if she was confirmed to be the mentally ill Franziska. Anna Anderson marrying an eccentric college professor so she could stay in the United States and not have to return to the hovel she was living in back in Germany. Olga Alexandrovna, the real Anastasia’s aunt, meeting her and not believing her claim but still showing her kindness because she seemed so sad and pitiful.  Anna’s supporters are all interesting characters in their own right, and their motives for supporting her range from greed to kindness to a sense of obligation to the monarchy she claimed to represent. The book is incredibly well-written, and many passages read like a novel, using primary sources for quotes and descriptions.

King and Wilson were both Anna Anderson believers before the DNA test, like many people, and admit that the mystery of Anastasia’s fate got them interested in the Romanovs. This is true of most people I’ve met who are interested in the Romanov family. Anna Anderson was probably the most successful and believable royal pretender of all time. Many didn’t consider the case “closed” until Anastasia’s body was finally found and identified in 2008, despite the DNA tests. The missing body (which was widely believed to have been Anastasia, but it could not be conclusively determined which Grand Duchess was missing) actually gave a lot of fuel to Anna Anderson supporters. If her body was missing, and the others, except her brother Alexei, were accounted for, then maybe she did survive after all.

Anna Anderson didn’t really look that much like Anastasia Romanov, which makes her ability to convince people she was Anastasia more remarkable. The first people who believed she was a Grand Duchess thought she was Anastasia’s older sister, Tatiana, whom she resembled more facially. But she was far too short to be Tatiana, and so it was determined she must be Anastasia. Franziska didn’t chose to be Anastasia, or Tatiana, or anyone royal. But she didn’t want to be Franziska Schanzkowska, so when she had an out, she took it and saw that decision through until the bitter end. She died in Charlottesville in 1984. I came away from this book feeling sorry for her and never thinking she was really a bad person. When I was a kid, I loved the animated movie Anastasia. I loved the idea of the beautiful princess escaping death and eventually reuniting with her grandmother. The reality is much darker, but in some ways, even more fascinating.

4 replies on “Book Review: “Resurrection of the Romanovs” by Greg King and Penny Wilson”

I might have to pick up this book. I’ve been fascinated with Anastasia since middle school. I read as many books about her as I could get my hands on. All the people that claimed to be her were interesting, though I never actually thought any were really truly her. I’m not going to lie, the announcement of her body being officially identified in 2008 was a bit sad it meant the magic of the story was all in the past.

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