Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Pretender by Mary Morrissy


I remember being a little girl and seeing a miniseries on TV about Anna Anderson, the woman who claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, who had miraculously escaped execution with the rest of her family. The very next day I went to the library and checked out the book by Peter Kurth on which it was based. I have read everything I could find about this controversial royal pretender ever since, so I was delighted to discover this novel.

This novel attempts to explain how a poor Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska became a real life princess and one of history’s greatest enigma’s that endured until science spoiled the party and used DNA to unmask her. But before the coach turned back into a pumpkin, it was a grand ride. From Polish poverty to war-ravaged Berlin, a city of want and rationing, punctuated by hot, grueling factory work, love and loss, then on to an icy plunge in the Landwehr Canal, and rebirth in a German insane asylum as a princess, a life of aristocratic luxury replete with monogrammed undies, fur coats, and feathered hats paid for by believers, supporters of her cause, ending with a marriage of convenience with an eccentric Southern history professor twenty years her junior and a life of eccentric squalor in Charlottesville, Virginia. And along the way we see the pieces that went into the creation of the Anastasia myth. It’s a fascinating novel, shorter than you might expect given the scope of the Anastasia/Anna Anderson story, but well worth a read.

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