I Was Anastasia, page 1
ALSO BY ARIEL LAWHON
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress
Flight of Dreams
This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical figures and public figures appear, many of the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2018 by Ariel Lawhon
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto.
DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Cover design by John Fontana
Cover photograph by Malgorzata Maj / Arcangel
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Names: Lawhon, Ariel, author.
Title: I was Anastasia : a novel / Ariel Lawhon.
Description: First edition. | New York : Doubleday, 
Identifiers: lccn 2017030326 | ISBN 9780385541695 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780385541701 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Anastasiëiìa Nikolaevna, Grand Duchess, daughter of Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, 1901–1918—Fiction. | Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia, 1868–1918—Family—Assassination—Fiction. | Romanov, House of—History—20th century—Fiction. | Princesses—Russia—Fiction. | Impersonation—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Historical. | FICTION / Mystery&Detective / Historical. | FICTION / Biographical. | GSAFD: Biographical fiction. | Historical fiction. | Suspense fiction. | Mystery fiction.
Classification: LCC PS3601.l447 I22 2018 | DDC 813/.6—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017030326
Ebook ISBN 9780385541701
As always, for my husband, Ashley, because I would be lost without him.
Also, for Marybeth because she gave me the title.
And for Melissa: editor, champion, and friend.
Also by Ariel Lawhon
Part One: The End and the Beginning 1 Anna: Folie À Deux: 1970, 1968
2 Anastasia: Revolution: 1917
3 Anna: Departure: 1968
4 Anastasia: Citizen Romanov: 1917
5 Anna: At The Movies, In Paris: 1968, 1958, 1955
6 Anastasia: House Arrest: 1917
7 Anna: Visitors to the Black Forest: 1954, 1946
8 Anastasia: Onward, Into Peril: 1917
Part Two: Friends and Enemies 9 Anna: Hannover: 1946, 1943
10 Anastasia: Exile: 1917
11 Anna: The Schanzkowska Affair: 1938, 1932, 1931
12 Anastasia: The Governor’s House: 1917
13 Anna: The Copenhagen Statement: 1931, 1930
14 Anastasia: Under Arrest, On Freedom Street: 1917
15 Anna: The Grandanor Corporation: 1929, 1928
16 Anastasia: Christmas in Siberia: 1917, 1918
17 Anna: The Root of All Evil: 1928
18 Anastasia: A Changing of the Guard: 1918
19 Anna: Oyster Bay: 1928
20 Anastasia: Together No More: 1918
21 Anna: Entrapment: 1927, 1926, 1925
22 Anastasia: The Baggage: 1918
Part Three: This Too Shall Pass 23 Anna: Friends at Last: 1925, 1922
24 Anastasia: The House of Special Purpose: 1918
25 Anna: Two Years at Dalldorf: 1922, 1921
26 Anastasia: Borrowed Time: 1918
27 Anna: Miss Unknown: 1920
28 Anastasia: Losing Cohesion: 1918
29 Anna: The Elisabeth Hospital: 1920
30 Anastasia: The Warning: 1918
31 Anna: The Bendler Bridge: 1920
32 Anastasia: The Cellar: 1918
33 Anna: The Boardinghouse: 1920, 1919
34 Anastasia: The Firing Squad: 1918
35 Anna: Praying to Die: 1918
36 Anastasia: The Four Brothers Mine, Near Ekaterinburg, Russia: 1918
37 Anna: The Munitions Factory: 1918
I Told You So
About the Author
If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.
—RUDYARD KIPLING, THE COLLECTED WORKS
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. It will be the gift and the curse I bestow upon you. A confession for which you may never forgive me. Are you ready for that? Can you hold this truth in your hand and not crush it like the rest of them? Because I do not think you can. I do not think you are brave enough. But, like so many others through the years, you have asked:
Am I truly Anastasia Romanov? A beloved daughter. A revered icon. A Russian grand duchess.
Or am I an impostor? A fraud. A liar. The thief of another woman’s legacy.
That is for you to decide, of course. Countless others have rendered their verdict. Now it is your turn. But if you want the truth, you must pay attention. Do not daydream or drift off. Do not speak or interrupt. You will have your answers. But first you must understand why the years have brought me to this point and why such loss has made the journey necessary. When I am finished, and only then, will you have the right to tell me who I am.
Are you ready? Good.
Let us begin.
· PART ONE ·
The End and the Beginning
Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.
—SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
· 1 ·
FOLIE À DEUX
February 17, 1970
Fifty years ago tonight Anna threw herself off a bridge in Berlin. It wasn’t her first brush with death, or even the most violent, but it was the only one that came at her hands. Anna’s husband does not know this, however. She watches him, watching her, and she knows he sees only a fragile old woman who has waited too long for vindication. He sees the carefully cultivated image she presents to the world: a crown of thinning silver hair and tired blue eyes. Age and confusion and a gentle aura of helplessness. This impression could not be further from the truth. She has been many things through the years, but helpless is not one of them. At the moment, however, Anna is simply impatient. She sits in this living room, two thousand miles from her past, waiting for a verdict.
Jack is like a frightened rabbit, all nerves and tension. He springs from his chair and begins to pace through the cluttered den. “Why haven’t they called? They should have called by now.”
“I’m sure they read the verdict hours ago,” Anna says, leaning her h
Whatever news awaits them is not good, but Anna does not have the heart to tell him this. Jack is so hopeful. He has already written a press release and taken a Polaroid so he can bring both to The Daily Progress first thing in the morning. Jack spoke with the editor this afternoon, suggesting they reserve a front-page spot for the story. He’s hoping for something above the fold. He’s hoping for exclamation points.
Even though Jack hasn’t admitted it, Anna knows that he is looking forward to reporters showing up again. They haven’t had any in months, and she suspects he’s gotten lonely with only her and the animals for company. She feels a bit sorry for him, being saddled with her like this. But there was no other way. Gleb insisted on it, and in all the years she knew him, Gleb Botkin remained her truest friend, her staunchest champion. He’s been dead two years now. Another loss in an unending string of losses. Jack is kind to her—just as Gleb promised—and beggars can’t be choosers anyway. Anna reminds herself of this daily.
The phone rings. Three startling metallic alarms and then Jack snatches it from the cradle.
“Manahan residence.” A pause, and then, “Yes, she’s here. Hold on a moment.” The cord won’t stretch across the room, so Jack lays the receiver on the sideboard. He grins. “It’s from Germany.”
“The Prince.” He beams, then clarifies—there have been a number of princes in her life. “Frederick.”
Anna feels a wild stab of anger at the name. She hasn’t forgotten what Frederick did, hasn’t forgotten the burn pile behind her cottage at the edge of the Black Forest. All those charred little bones. If the news had come from anyone else she would take the call. “I don’t want to speak with him.”
“He knows why.”
“I really think it’s time you—”
Anna holds her hand up, palm out, a firm, final sort of motion. “Take a message.”
Jack pouts but doesn’t protest. He knows that arguing is futile. Anna does not change her mind. Nor does she forgive. He picks up the receiver again. “I’m sorry. She doesn’t want to speak right now. Why don’t you give me the news?”
And then she watches Jack’s countenance fall by tiny, heartbreaking increments. First his smile. Then his lifted, expectant brows. His right arm drops to his side. He is deflated. “I don’t understand,” he says, finally, then clears his throat as though he has swallowed a cobweb.
“Write it down,” Anna instructs. “Word for word.” She doesn’t want to interpret the verdict through his anger once he hangs up. Anna wants to know exactly what the appeals court has to say. Jack is too emotional and prone to exaggeration. He needs to transcribe the decision in its entirety or vital bits of information will be lost the moment he hangs up. Gleb wouldn’t need this instruction. He would know what to do. He would know what questions to ask. But Gleb is no longer here, and, once again, this reality leaves her feeling adrift.
“Let me write this down,” Jack says, like it’s his idea. She watches him shuffle through piles of paper on the cluttered sideboard, looking for a notebook with blank pages. Finding none, he grabs an envelope and turns it over. “Go ahead. I’m ready.”
A decade ago Anna’s lawyer told her this lawsuit was the longest-running case in German history. This appeal has stretched it into something worse, something interminable. And there stands Jack, writing the footnote to her quest on the back of their electric bill in his tidy, ever-legible script. “How do you spell that?” he asks at one point, holding the phone with one hand and recording the verdict with the other. He doesn’t rush or scribble but pens each word with painstaking precision, occasionally asking Frederick to repeat himself.
Jack and Anna don’t have many friends. They haven’t been married long, only two years, and theirs is a relationship based on convenience and necessity, not romance. They are old and eccentric and not fit for polite society in this quaint college town. But a handful of people—mostly former professors at the University of Virginia, like Jack—are due to arrive shortly. Anna doesn’t want to know how he convinced them to come. Entertaining would have been awkward if the decision had gone in her favor. It will be excruciating now. Anna decides there won’t be a party tonight. She doesn’t have the heart to entertain strangers this evening.
But Jack, in all his eagerness, has cooked for a celebration. Their small den is littered with trays of fruit and sandwiches. Deviled eggs and cheese platters. Tiny brined pickles and cocktail sausages skewered with toothpicks. He even bought three bottles of champagne that sit in a bowl of ice, unopened beneath the string of Christmas lights he stapled to the ceiling. Anna stares at the bottles with suspicion. She hasn’t touched the stuff in almost four decades. The last time Anna drank champagne she ended up naked on a rooftop in New York City.
The entire setting is tacky and festive—just like her husband. Jack bought a rhinestone tiara from the costume shop near the college campus just for the occasion. It sits on a gaudy red velvet pillow next to the champagne. He’s been dying to crown her since they met, and only today, only in the hopes of a positive verdict, has she humored him. But that hope is gone now. Snuffed out in a German courtroom on the other side of the world.
“Thank you,” he finally says, and then lower, almost a whisper, “I will. I’m sorry. You know how she can be. I’m sure she’ll speak with you next time. Good-bye.”
When he turns back to Anna, Jack has the envelope pressed to his chest. He doesn’t speak.
“We need to call our guests and tell them the party’s canceled,” she says.
He looks crushed. “I’m so sorry.”
“This isn’t your fault. You did what you could.” A shrug. A deep breath. “What did Frederick say?”
“Your appeal was rejected. They won’t reverse the lower court’s ruling.”
“I gathered that. Tell me his words exactly.”
Jack looks to the paper. “They regard your claim as ‘non liquet.’ ”
“What does that mean?”
“ ‘Not clear’ or ‘not proven.’ ”
When Jack frowns, he puckers his mouth until his upper lip nearly touches his nose. It’s an odd, childish expression and one he’s used with greater frequency the longer he has known her. “Is that German?”
“You know Latin?”
“Very little at this point.” Anna swats at him. “Go on.”
“The judges said that even though your death has never been proven, neither has your escape.”
“Ah. Clever.” She smiles at this dilemma. It is the ultimate Catch-22. Her escape can’t be proven without a formal declaration of identity from the court. “Read the rest please.”
Jack holds the envelope six inches from his nose and slowly recites the verdict. “ ‘We have not decided that the plaintiff is not Grand Duchess Anastasia, but only that the Hamburg court made its decision without legal mistakes and without procedural errors.’ ” He looks up. “So they have decided…nothing?”
She shakes her head slowly and then with more determination. “Oh, they have decided everything.”
“It was that photo, wasn’t it? The court must have seen it. There’s no other reason they would rule against you. Damn that Rasputin. Damn her!” Jack begins to pace again. “We could make a statement—”
“No. It’s over.” Anna lifts her chin with all the dignity she can muster and folds her hands in her lap. She is resigned and regal. “They will never formally recognize me as Anastasia Romanov.”
TWO YEARS EARLIER
December 23, 1968
Anna does not want to marry Jack Manahan. She would rather marry Gleb. Even after all the trouble he has caused through the years. But theirs is a story of fals
When they discussed this ridiculous plan in August, Gleb said his health was to blame. He couldn’t marry her himself because she would end up having to take care of him. Anna believes that this is punishment for a long-held resentment. Tit for tat. Wound for wound. He has loved her for decades, and she has never been able to fully reciprocate. Now he stands as witness to her unwilling nuptials. As best man, in fact.
It is snowing outside the courthouse. Not the angry, hard, blistering shards of snow she is used to in Germany, but fat, lethargic flakes that drift and flutter and take their time getting to the ground. Lazy snow. American snow.
Anna’s had only a single tryst since that limpid summer in Bavaria all those years ago, but Gleb moved on. Got married. Had children. They’ve never talked about the intervening years, and it’s not worth bringing up now. Anna is in her seventies—too old to get married at all, much less for the first time. Jack Manahan is twenty years her junior. A former professor enamored with Russian history, and with her—or, at least, the idea of her. Regardless, he hasn’t put up much of a fight since being presented with the plan. Jack’s only show of hesitation was a long, curious look at Gleb. Assessing his attachment and willingness to let Anna go.
It occurred to her, far too late in the process, that she had not considered the issue of sex. Jack is young. Younger at least. And she is…well…she is not. The idea of consummation almost caused her to back out of this arrangement entirely. All of those hormones have shriveled up, turned to dust, and blown away. Desire is little more than a fond memory these days.