The Secret Daughter of The Tsar book review
A novel experience
Throughout the mid-to-late twentieth century, multiple individuals came forward claiming that they were one of the Romanov children who had miraculously survived death along with the rest of their family members and close staff. One of the most interesting of these cases emerged from a Dutch woman, Suzanna Degraaf, who believed she was the fifth daughter of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, born a year or two before
their son, Alexei. Unfortunately, Degraaf’s story was not strongly supported or widely accepted, except by Anna Anderson, who falsely asserted she was Grand Duchess Anastasia. Despite its lack of legitimacy, Degraaf’s story became the inspiration for Jennifer Laam’s 2013 debut historical fiction novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar.
Jennifer Laam’s, the Secret Daughter of the Tsar is a captivating novel which centres around the possible existence of a secret fifth Romanov daughter and the ripple effect this situation would have on a variety of individuals, in both the present and the fture. Immersed in creativity and historical fact, Laam’s novel demonstrates a unique storyline, revealed through the perspectives of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Although, initially, these women seem completely unrelated, as the novel progresses it quickly becomes clear just how intertwined their lives actually are.
After a short prologue, set in 1927 Copenhagen, that reveals a foreshadow for later events, the novel flashes forward to Los Angeles in the present with the first protagonist, Veronica, whose unique perspective begins chapter one. Veronica is a Russian history professor and historian, who is not only struggling to write her novel on Tsarina Alexandra, but is also stressing about the likely possibility that her teaching contract will not be renewed. Due to her most recent failed romantic relationship, Veronica is focused on her career, determined to protect her heart from getting broken again. However, this reality changes after her cousin, Jess, sets her up with Michael Karstadt, an attorney and major history lover. Despite her initial annoyance over being set up, since Michael and her seem to have similar history and music interests, she agrees to a dinner date with him. Although Veronica and Michael quickly hit it off at dinner, later that evening their potential relationship becomes complicated.
While looking through some Russian history books at Michael’s house, Veronica discovers a family tree chart, in which Michael’s lineage is traced back in time to Tsar Nicholas II. Unsurprisingly, Veronica is startled by this discovery and worried he is only pretending to be interested in her so that she can help him prove the legitimacy of his lineage. Although Michael is quick to change the subject and assures her that he does like her and wants to get to know her better, Veronica still can’t forget what she saw. As she digs deeper into Michael’s genealogy, she realizes that not only are people not always who they seem, but also uncovers a surprising truth about her own past and lineage.
Chapter two flashes back in time to Russia in 1901 with the perspective of Lena, a servant in the Russian Court. After having four daughters, Alexandra is desperate for a male heir. Since Lena’s mother was a midwife, Alexandra believes that Lena has wisdom to share to ensure Alexandra gives birth to a son. Despite Lena’s worry and fear that she will not be able to do as Alexandra requires, she agrees to do her best to help, especially after Alexandra promises protection for Lena’s older brother, Anton, who has gotten himself into serious trouble through his involvement with a certain group of troubled boys.
While Lena has a great deal of respect for the Tsarina, she learns from the Dowager Empress Marie (Alexandra’s mother-in-law) that there individuals at the Russian Court who wouldn’t hesitate to use any of Alexandra’s mistakes to push her and her husband, Tsar Nicholas II out as rulers and take the power of royal rule for themselves, if given the chance.
Given this reality, it is essential that Alexandra gives birth to a son, rather than another daughter. However, things don’t always turn out the way people want or even hope. As a result, the Dowager Empress Marie has to make a tough decision based on what she believes is best for the stability and security of Nicholas II’s reign. Due to her decision, Lena is put in a difficult position and given a task that leads to future repercussions.
Halfway through chapter two, the novel shifts to Nazi occupied Paris in the fall of 1941 and the perspective of Charlotte, the story’s third and final protagonist, a ballet teacher and mother to a young son, Laurent. One day Charlotte is startled by German soldiers banging on their apartment door, calling out her name and demanding to speak with her. This situation frightens and confuses Charlotte, since she has no idea what the soldiers want, or why they have referred to her as a grand duchess. However, she knows that their presence, puts Laurent’s and her lives in danger. Luckily, with the help of her older friend Madame Kshesinskaya, who delays the soldiers, Charlotte and Laurent are able to sneak out through the back of their apartment. Following Kshesinskaya’s advice, Charlotte decides to head to her parents’ home, knowing that once there, they will explain everything. However, with no car and no way past the German checkpoints guarding the city, Charlotte desperately needs a safe place and seeks help from her ex-husband Luc, who despite being surprised to see them, offers his help. However, nothing goes as expected. Not only do various struggles emerge, which put all their lives in danger, but Charlotte also learns a startling truth about her past.
Jennifer Laam’s The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is a captivating historical fiction novel which I highly recommend. If you do enjoy this novel, be sure to check out its sequel, (which is next on my to-read list), The Tsarina’s Legacy.