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A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson

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An extraordinary story of tenacity and intrigue, and the deep human urge to salvage hope from tragedy. Did the seventeen-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia survive the massacre of the Russian imperial family in 1918? Over the years, the possibility that the youngest of the tsar’s four daughters might have escaped the killings has provided rich spawning ground for claimants. B An extraordinary story of tenacity and intrigue, and the deep human urge to salvage hope from tragedy. Did the seventeen-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia survive the massacre of the Russian imperial family in 1918? Over the years, the possibility that the youngest of the tsar’s four daughters might have escaped the killings has provided rich spawning ground for claimants. By far the best known of these was Anna Anderson, a mysterious young woman who appeared in Berlin in 1920. Anna attracted a bizarre coterie of supporters—some of whom had known the grand duchess as a child—who risked life and limb, and often all their savings, in a desperate attempt to prove that Anastasia had, after all, survived. But who was Anna Anderson—and just how did she manage to convince so many people that she was the real Anastasia? Frances Welch’s A Romanov Fantasy is a tragic comedy in the best Russian tradition—a compelling, eerie, and frequently hilarious study of discipleship, snobbery, and life after death.


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An extraordinary story of tenacity and intrigue, and the deep human urge to salvage hope from tragedy. Did the seventeen-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia survive the massacre of the Russian imperial family in 1918? Over the years, the possibility that the youngest of the tsar’s four daughters might have escaped the killings has provided rich spawning ground for claimants. B An extraordinary story of tenacity and intrigue, and the deep human urge to salvage hope from tragedy. Did the seventeen-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia survive the massacre of the Russian imperial family in 1918? Over the years, the possibility that the youngest of the tsar’s four daughters might have escaped the killings has provided rich spawning ground for claimants. By far the best known of these was Anna Anderson, a mysterious young woman who appeared in Berlin in 1920. Anna attracted a bizarre coterie of supporters—some of whom had known the grand duchess as a child—who risked life and limb, and often all their savings, in a desperate attempt to prove that Anastasia had, after all, survived. But who was Anna Anderson—and just how did she manage to convince so many people that she was the real Anastasia? Frances Welch’s A Romanov Fantasy is a tragic comedy in the best Russian tradition—a compelling, eerie, and frequently hilarious study of discipleship, snobbery, and life after death.

30 review for A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson

  1. 4 out of 5

    Heather Reads Books

    I've read a lot of biographical material about the end of the Romanov dynasty and Anna Anderson's claims of being the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia. As such, I came to this book asking the following question: does this shed new light on the controversy, or is it simply a retreading of familiar ground? For me, it was a little of Column A, a little of Column B. Historically, It has long since been proven that Anna Anderson, who was really a Polish peasant named Franziska Schanzkowska, was not A I've read a lot of biographical material about the end of the Romanov dynasty and Anna Anderson's claims of being the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia. As such, I came to this book asking the following question: does this shed new light on the controversy, or is it simply a retreading of familiar ground? For me, it was a little of Column A, a little of Column B. Historically, It has long since been proven that Anna Anderson, who was really a Polish peasant named Franziska Schanzkowska, was not Anastasia. This has been proven through DNA evidence. So at this point, reading about the phenomenon has less to do with thinking about it as a history mystery, and more to do with wanting to know how Anderson managed to fool so many people for so long. Furthermore, did she know she was conning everyone, or was she delusional enough to buy her own claims? A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson offers little insight into these questions. What it does succeed at is giving some insight into the life of Gleb Botkin, one of Anna's most stalwart supporters. Frances Welch spends nearly the first half of the book telling Gleb's life story, from his boyhood in the dying days of Imperial Russia to his eccentric later years in America, where he apparently started his own religion. For the first time, I understood why Gleb would stand by Anna: not only was he friends with the real Anastasia in their childhood, but he lost his father, Evgeny Botkin, the Romanovs' family doctor, in the same massacre that killed the Imperial family. In some ways, it's easy to see why Gleb would cling to the notion that someone could survive the execution. In others, however, it's difficult to understand what stood Anna apart to him from the dozens – if not hundreds – of other Romanov pretenders over the years. (He apparently claimed several times that she acted "regal" super convincingly, which I personally think warrants more scrutiny – what inherent assumptions must one have to believe that a Polish peasant is incapable of putting on the airs of nobility? So much of this story reeks of classism and I've not yet found a text that addresses that as an underlying issue.) This is where the book falters. Perhaps it's not entirely Welch's fault. Anna Anderson famously maintained her false identity until her death, so there's no smoking gun or secretly taped confession to tell us Anna's true agenda. But Welch rightly points out something I've always thought about Anna: she looked nothing like Anastasia. I have always wondered why she was able to convince so many people when photographs clearly show completely different facial structures. However, Welch includes nothing about why Anna's many supporters-turned-detractors changed their minds, and only hints at those who saw through the rouse right away. (She notes one Russian scholar detected a Polish accent when he met Anna – something any native Russian speaker should have been able to pick up on.) The rest we must grasp at through subtext. For example, Anna was notorious for meeting people who knew the royal family while covering part of her face, something that seemed to me a clear attempt to obfuscate apparent physical differences between her and Anastasia. She "refused" to speak Russian, conveniently. And her story of her "escape" from Ekaterinburg changed wildly over the years. Did the inconsistencies not bother anyone? Did no one attempt to track down her supposed husband "Tschaikovsky" and her "long-lost" son? Why did Franziska's relatives change their stories so much? How many of Anna's supporters were in the know about the fraud and hoped simply to use it to get rich? There are some big unanswered questions left over from Anna's life, and this book doesn't attempt to tackle any of them. I found myself frequently wishing I could reach into the source material and fill in some of these gaps myself. Well, okay, that sounds like a project for some day... The book we are left with reads like the detached, disjointed biography of someone who was clearly mentally ill, surrounded by eccentrics and charlatans who almost certainly did her more harm than good. Several times I thought that this must be what it was like to hang out with the conspiracy theory crowd before the internet: her supporters had to buy so deeply into such an obvious lie as to become detached from reality. And in the end you ask, "Okay, so what was the point of all that?" A Romanov Fantasy doesn't even attempt to answer that question, making the most obvious answer a terribly unsatisfying one: nothing. I do think Anna Anderson's story can tell us something more thoughtful than that, but in reading this book, I certainly wasn't able to figure out what it was. Finally, I must report a random pet peeve: when books in English anglicize Russian names, as if English-speaking readers can't handle seeing Nikolai instead of Nicholas, Alexei instead of Alexis, etc. This book does that and I hated it thoroughly.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Challice

    This was kind of confusing memoir of Anna who convinced many for decades that she was the lost Romanov Anastasia. The author is quite certain to make the reader know that Anna was an imposter but all the details pointed to the idea that Anna was who she said she was. She knew details no one else knew. She managed to convince many and carry this on for decades. I would have loved to know how Anna knew these details that distinguished her for being Anastasia. At times the book jumped all over and This was kind of confusing memoir of Anna who convinced many for decades that she was the lost Romanov Anastasia. The author is quite certain to make the reader know that Anna was an imposter but all the details pointed to the idea that Anna was who she said she was. She knew details no one else knew. She managed to convince many and carry this on for decades. I would have loved to know how Anna knew these details that distinguished her for being Anastasia. At times the book jumped all over and I was confused at what was going on. However, all in all, it was a nonfiction that I enjoyed very much. If I had to do it over again, I would have preferred a book with more Romanov history so that I could understand some of what went on ahead. ⭐⭐.5

  3. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    More annoying than anything else. She offers absolutely nothing that explains how Franziska Schanzkowska was able to convince people that she was Anastasia from either the point of view of the imposter or her supporters. It is a banality of this story that the woman who impersonated her must have been far more interesting than the real Anastasia ever was, but Welch never conveys a sense of why. She also doesn't fully delve into Gleb Botkin's character, so his life appears to be a series of very More annoying than anything else. She offers absolutely nothing that explains how Franziska Schanzkowska was able to convince people that she was Anastasia from either the point of view of the imposter or her supporters. It is a banality of this story that the woman who impersonated her must have been far more interesting than the real Anastasia ever was, but Welch never conveys a sense of why. She also doesn't fully delve into Gleb Botkin's character, so his life appears to be a series of very random events. The son of the physician who was murdered with the Imperial Family, Gleb drops in and out of the story with little explanation, is introduced as a potential candidate for the Russian Orthodox priesthood, but he winds up founding a church dedicated to the worship of Aphrodite, marries a woman and produces children with her, but she is never mentioned again until she dies 45 years later. I'm sorry, but if there was an interesting person connected to the shabby history of Franziska Schanzkowska, it was Gleb Botkin. The book appears to be culled from secondary sources, but she significantly fails to mention Peter Kurth's work. This is a major omission if you are telling the story of Anna Anderson, as Kurth's Anastasia was a major contributor to her cause. She also draws upon Lovell's The Lost Princess, which is widely discredited. To her credit, Welch etches a vivid portrait of Jack Manahan, the eccentric Charlottesville resident who finally married Anderson. The description of their years together is unbearable, as each degenerated into madness. A Romanov Fantasy was simply superseded by King and Wilson's Resurrection of the Romanovs

  4. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    I have read plenty on the last Tsar of Russia and his family. It was a period of history I embraced in the 6th grade and I continue to read about with curiosity as new developments emerge. This book - saw at Borders and thought I would give it a shot due to all of the recent developments in the last few years. NOT WORTH IT. I thought it was going to really look hard at how Anna Anderson pulled it off for all that time and convinced so many people, but really all it did was relate the same facts I have read plenty on the last Tsar of Russia and his family. It was a period of history I embraced in the 6th grade and I continue to read about with curiosity as new developments emerge. This book - saw at Borders and thought I would give it a shot due to all of the recent developments in the last few years. NOT WORTH IT. I thought it was going to really look hard at how Anna Anderson pulled it off for all that time and convinced so many people, but really all it did was relate the same facts and wacky behaviors that have always been reported on. Old news. Far better books out there on the family, last days and Anna Anderson if you want to read about this odd character in history.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Unnati Rennie

    For what should be quite an exciting story...this book really disappointed. The story lacked depth, you never feel any kind of affinity with Anna or any of the other characters and in fact, I just couldn't wait for it to end so I could move onto my next book...not a good sign! For what should be quite an exciting story...this book really disappointed. The story lacked depth, you never feel any kind of affinity with Anna or any of the other characters and in fact, I just couldn't wait for it to end so I could move onto my next book...not a good sign!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Marguerite

    Reading again to update my info to start The Race to Save the Romanovs.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lois

    The downfall of the Romanovs has always proven to be a morbid curiosity for me (and Fox animation studios didn't exactly help in curbing the interest) but I knew very little about Anna Anderson, who is the focus of the biography. Having finished the book, I'm still left with some of the questions I held at the start, but more intensely so. How did this woman manage to convince so many people who had known Anastasia Romanova that she was the same person? Certainly there were a lot of coincidences p The downfall of the Romanovs has always proven to be a morbid curiosity for me (and Fox animation studios didn't exactly help in curbing the interest) but I knew very little about Anna Anderson, who is the focus of the biography. Having finished the book, I'm still left with some of the questions I held at the start, but more intensely so. How did this woman manage to convince so many people who had known Anastasia Romanova that she was the same person? Certainly there were a lot of coincidences physically, but the overwhelming evidence was that she was an imposter. Even when photographs of Franziska Schanzkowska emerged (and from those shown in the book she is the spit of Anna Anderson)people still continued to support Anna's claim. I think I would have liked the book better if it had attempted to provide some kind of explanation. I am assuming there are other facts out there that would have been valuable in understanding the conviction of so many. For myself, I can only assume that it was a domino effect, and that individuals believed because many had believed before them. I spent most of the book feeling sorry for Gleb and his sister, who thought the person they'd known was actually alive, and didn't learn the truth. It was Gleb's conviction that confused me the most. I wonder how much of his opinion was a desire for Anastasia to be alive, and how much boiled down to the fact that he didn't know Anastasia as well as it appears. The book certainly did as the title suggested: gave the biography of Anna Anderson. Which wasn't always pleasant or interesting, but one cannot change reality!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    If you know the story of Anderson very well, you will see that there are things in this book that never appeared in the books by supporters, such as denials by Shura, Olga Alexandrovna, and more. I found some very good source material for my website which tells the 'other side' of the Anderson story you usually don't see because supporters only want to tell it in a way that makes her look real. There were several valuable pieces of information in the book that helped me in my quest to prove Ande If you know the story of Anderson very well, you will see that there are things in this book that never appeared in the books by supporters, such as denials by Shura, Olga Alexandrovna, and more. I found some very good source material for my website which tells the 'other side' of the Anderson story you usually don't see because supporters only want to tell it in a way that makes her look real. There were several valuable pieces of information in the book that helped me in my quest to prove Anderson always was a fraud even before the DNA proved it. Because Welch is not an Anderson supporter and wrote it after we knew for a fact Anderson was a fraud, she is able to tell the story matter of factly that she was false and not leave any allusions to a mystery that is now over. Her premise is how Anderson/Schanzkowska did it and there is nothing to leave the reader believing she was actually Anastasia, unlike the books by Lovell and Kurth. My biggest disappointment was that most of the first half of the book was a retelling of books by Gleb Botkin, a huge Anderson supporter whose word I do not trust. This is the only reason I didn't rate it higher. I would like to thank Ms. Welch for putting the 'other side' out there, even in little pieces, the things Anderson supporters have tried to hide for years. It's about time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    The Overflowing Inkwell

    I got this book four years ago; between the title and the kitschy cover, I convinced myself it was a fictional novel, and decided not to read it. Eventually getting around to it, and realizing it was, in fact, a history book (just not the one I wanted), I gave it a try. The beginning of the book was excellent. There were many details about the personalities of the Imperial Family, the children in particular, that I had never known before and I would almost want to keep this book just for the ope I got this book four years ago; between the title and the kitschy cover, I convinced myself it was a fictional novel, and decided not to read it. Eventually getting around to it, and realizing it was, in fact, a history book (just not the one I wanted), I gave it a try. The beginning of the book was excellent. There were many details about the personalities of the Imperial Family, the children in particular, that I had never known before and I would almost want to keep this book just for the opening chapter. The rest of the story. . . . Going in, I knew that Anna was a fraud because DNA tests came back negative, but that was all I knew about her. I wasn't particularly interested in her story, and this book does nothing to try and get your attention. It's very dry, somewhat repetitive, but mercifully extremely easy to read. There were many sections where I wondered what was the point of all this, and tried to just skim through it and get it over with (that old need to finish books you've started coming back to haunt you just when you thought you'd gotten over it!). I felt very sorry for all her many, many cats, both in the Old World and the New, and wanted to rescue them all from her rampant neglect, but that was about all I got from this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marielle

    Synopsis: Frances Welch gives you the details on both Anastasia Nikolaievna, the Grand Missing Duchess and Anna Anderson, aka. Franziska Schanzkowska, her tenecious imposter. We look at their past and what led to one of the longest cases in Russia, along with how Anna came to be and where the Grand Missing Duchess really was. Classifications: The target audience is 16+, with advanced references and sharp witted jokes. The primary purpose was very expository and mainly gave you information of the Synopsis: Frances Welch gives you the details on both Anastasia Nikolaievna, the Grand Missing Duchess and Anna Anderson, aka. Franziska Schanzkowska, her tenecious imposter. We look at their past and what led to one of the longest cases in Russia, along with how Anna came to be and where the Grand Missing Duchess really was. Classifications: The target audience is 16+, with advanced references and sharp witted jokes. The primary purpose was very expository and mainly gave you information of the two. The manner of expression was the in novel form, in the 1900s, with a genre of non-fiction, genre of tragedy and slight satire, and genre of history. Critism: This novel was very good literature. I enjoyed reading about the quirky way Franziska came to be Anna Anderson and the real Anastasia and her childhood. The writing style was very well-paced and very well-put. It was one of the more advanced novels that I've read and had some references that I had to research to understand. The character developement was very interesting, entertaining and informational and I really liked learning about those two famous women in Russia.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Linda Koss

    If you are looking for in-depth Russian history, this is not it, but if you are looking for a view on the phenomenon of Russian royal family sitings that were big in the first half of the 20th century, this has some interesting insights. Regarding Russian history, Welch only covers enough about the mass assassination to illustrate why there were rumors for decades about possible survivors. The really interesting part begins when she discusses how the Polish peasant Franziska Schanzkowska came to If you are looking for in-depth Russian history, this is not it, but if you are looking for a view on the phenomenon of Russian royal family sitings that were big in the first half of the 20th century, this has some interesting insights. Regarding Russian history, Welch only covers enough about the mass assassination to illustrate why there were rumors for decades about possible survivors. The really interesting part begins when she discusses how the Polish peasant Franziska Schanzkowska came to believe herself a grand dutchess, and how a lot of people who should have known better thought she was, too. It's a wild, sad, funny tale.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Helen Azar

    The book is not bad, but what put a damper on it for me is that the author had her photos mixed up, she identified the wrong sister as Anastasia a couple of times... You would expect she would at least get that one right. Maybe it was the publisher's fault. Some other minor mistakes and a few somewhat shifty sources, but on the whole a good read. For a change a non-fiction book about Anna Anderson as who she actually was: a mentally ill woman posing as a Russian grand duchess, as well as about t The book is not bad, but what put a damper on it for me is that the author had her photos mixed up, she identified the wrong sister as Anastasia a couple of times... You would expect she would at least get that one right. Maybe it was the publisher's fault. Some other minor mistakes and a few somewhat shifty sources, but on the whole a good read. For a change a non-fiction book about Anna Anderson as who she actually was: a mentally ill woman posing as a Russian grand duchess, as well as about the phenomenon of her dogmatic followers.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gail

    I found this book to mostly be a retelling of Peter Kurth's or James Lovell's biographies of Anastasia. The major difference was that this book does not attempt to convince the reader that Anna Anderson was Anastasia, while Lovell, for example, is adamant in believing it. If you've read Peter Kurth or Lovell's biographies of Anna Anderson you won't learn anything new about Anderson's deception from this one. I found this book to mostly be a retelling of Peter Kurth's or James Lovell's biographies of Anastasia. The major difference was that this book does not attempt to convince the reader that Anna Anderson was Anastasia, while Lovell, for example, is adamant in believing it. If you've read Peter Kurth or Lovell's biographies of Anna Anderson you won't learn anything new about Anderson's deception from this one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    mazohyst

    First off, the cover is absolutely beautiful!! Second, as a young girl I read The Royal Diaries series and LOVED them. Anastasia was one that disturbed me and stayed with me for a long time. I just couldn't understand why she was killed and I hoped that maybe she was alive and everything was a lie. It was a fantasy of mine and Anderson had an interesting version of my fantasy. First off, the cover is absolutely beautiful!! Second, as a young girl I read The Royal Diaries series and LOVED them. Anastasia was one that disturbed me and stayed with me for a long time. I just couldn't understand why she was killed and I hoped that maybe she was alive and everything was a lie. It was a fantasy of mine and Anderson had an interesting version of my fantasy.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    Not the most sparkling prose, but Anna Anderson and her supporters were fascinatingly odd people. The actual Romanovs also come across as quite dotty, so this was well worth reading. I came away feeling like I understood better why people were so ready to believe a not-very-convincing hoax.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Garryvivianne

    Somehow you wish that this was a Romanov that actually got away. She fooled many people to the very end, even the Royals day to day were "yes she is" "no she isn't".....and the days of DNA got here to prove. And that was the end. Somehow you wish that this was a Romanov that actually got away. She fooled many people to the very end, even the Royals day to day were "yes she is" "no she isn't".....and the days of DNA got here to prove. And that was the end.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I am having a hard time finishing this book. It is like a dry diary about the pretender Anna Anderson and her craziness. I was expecting more history about what happened to the Romanov family, but only got a page or two of speculation in the beginning of the book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Welch blandly presents information with copious editorializing, but no analysis. As a result, what could be a compelling story with a cast of the truly outlandish remains merely tantalizing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    Parts of this book were fascinating, but I'm not sure there was enough information to fill an entire book. Nonetheless, how all of this was pulled off is fairly interesting Parts of this book were fascinating, but I'm not sure there was enough information to fill an entire book. Nonetheless, how all of this was pulled off is fairly interesting

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    All I know is that I wouldn't mind hanging out with old Anna Anderson, drinking some of that cherry wine and going for a little drive round-about town in the station wagon. All I know is that I wouldn't mind hanging out with old Anna Anderson, drinking some of that cherry wine and going for a little drive round-about town in the station wagon.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Fascinating and crazy true story but the book dragged and repeated itself.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Edwards

    Interesting read about how Anna Anderson and those around her tried to fool the world.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    This was difficult to get through, although it got better at the end.

  24. 5 out of 5

    SouthWestZippy

    Fascinating book with lots of twists and turns. What a strange life.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ruby

    a VERY fascinating read about the woman who pretended to be the lost Anastasia, daughter of the tragic Tsar Nicholas II. highly recommended.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    Loved this book as I am a bit of a Russian history buff and infinitely fascinated with the "Anastasia myth". Blew right though this book - awesome! Loved this book as I am a bit of a Russian history buff and infinitely fascinated with the "Anastasia myth". Blew right though this book - awesome!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Manda

    Interesting enough, but doesn't really shed any light on new information on Anna Anderson/Franziska Schanzkowska and no real revelations on how she was so successful a fraud. Interesting enough, but doesn't really shed any light on new information on Anna Anderson/Franziska Schanzkowska and no real revelations on how she was so successful a fraud.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maren

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa Adkins

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