The Secret Wife – Gill Paul
ebook & paperback | published 25 August 2016 by Avon
Romanov conspiracy theories
by Gill Paul
Between 1918 and 1991 no one knew what had happened to the Romanovs. The Russian government admitted that Tsar Nicholas had been executed but they were close-lipped about the fate of the others. It’s little wonder that conspiracy theories sprang up and imposters stepped forward. Apart from anything else, the Romanovs were worth what would be $300 billion in today’s terms, much of it rumoured to be in foreign bank accounts.
Nicholas II had been a disastrous ruler, quite willing to order his troops to fire on his own people; Alexandra was suspected (unfairly) of sneaking state secrets to her native Germany during the First World War and there was that ill-considered relationship with Rasputin. But no one had any evidence of wrongdoing by the children, the youngest of whom were just seventeen (Anastasia) and thirteen (Alexei). Who could have been barbaric enough to massacre these innocents? It was hard to accept that any government would sanction such a thing.
The best-known Romanov imposter was Anna Anderson, who turned up in a Berlin asylum in 1920 and claimed to be Anastasia. Loads of people believed her, including the children of the family physician Dr Botkin, who had died with them in the Ekaterinburg house, their cousin Grand Duke Andrei, and even the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Anna Anderson died in 1984, still maintaining that she was the Romanovs’ youngest daughter. DNA tests ten years later showed otherwise, but as recently as 2014, Russian historian Veniamin Alekseyev claimed that the tests had been flawed, the DNA contaminated.He thinks that Anastasia probably did escape and Anna Anderson could have been her. French historian Marc Ferro goes further by suggesting that Alexandra and her daughters might all have survived, with only the tsar and his son and heir murdered.
There were several claimants for each of the Romanov children, and the story that particularly fascinates me is that of Larissa Tudor. She made no claims herself but after her death in 1926 rumours began to circulate that she had in fact been Grand Duchess Tatiana. Where did the large sum of money she left her husband come from? Why did he take flowers to her grave every year on the date of Tatiana’s birthday? And why did he have ‘Feodorovna’ carved on her gravestone (Feodorovna was her Alexandra’s patronymic) when according to Larissa’s marriage certificate her maiden name was Haouk?
Larissa made several contradictory claims about her own background, most famously that she was a belly dancer living in Constantinople when Owen Tudor, an officer in the King’s Own Hussars, met her in 1921. They married in London in 1923 and lived a very quiet life near Lydd in Kent. Larissa died of tuberculosis three years later but after her death rumours began to spread. When neighbours who had known her were shown portraits of Tatiana by author Michael Occleshaw, they all exclaimed “That’s her!”
There are a number of theories about how Tatiana could have escaped from Russia but Occleshaw thinks she was flown out of Ekaterinburg in early July 1918 by British agents and made her way east through Canada and hence to Britain.
What do I think happened? You’ll have to read The Secret Wife to find out.
A Russian grand duchess and an English journalist. Linked by one of the world’s greatest mysteries . . .
Love. Guilt. Heartbreak.
Russia is on the brink of collapse, and the Romanov family faces a terrifyingly uncertain future. Grand Duchess Tatiana has fallen in love with cavalry officer Dmitri, but events take a catastrophic turn, placing their romance – and their lives – in danger . . .
Kitty Fisher escapes to her great-grandfather’s remote cabin in America, after a devastating revelation makes her flee London. There, on the shores of Lake Akanabee, she discovers the spectacular jewelled pendant that will lead her to a long-buried family secret . . .
Haunting, moving and beautifully written, The Secret Wife effortlessly crosses centuries, as past merges with present in an unforgettable story of love, loss and resilience.
Perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Dinah Jefferies.
It’s a pleasure to be taking part in the blog tour for The Secret Wife. Having loved Gill’s previous book (No Place For a Lady – reviewed here) I was very much looking forward to reading this and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve always had a fascination for the Russian Romanov family and it’s well documented in history how they met their fate. What the author has done with The Secret Wife, and so very well, is to combine fiction with fact to make a spellbinding tale of love and loss.
I love dual narrative and timeslip but quite often prefer one period to another – as I thought would be the case here. Initially, I thought that Kitty’s story would be the weakest of the two but as the story progressed and her investigations led to more being known about the later years of her long lost relation together with the discovery of family secrets, I found that I enjoyed both timelines equally. Although Kitty was mainly the vehicle for the telling of her great-grandfather’s story, she became a stronger character in her own right. I was very impressed with her carpentry skills whilst repairing the remote lakeside cabin that she inherited!
The story primarily focuses on cavalry officer Dimitri Yakovlevich Malama and his love for The Grand Duchess Tatiana. Although he had been an Imperial Guard for the family, their most personal encounter was in a converted hospital ward at the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo when Dimiti, aged 23, was recovering from injuries suffered during the fighting at the front between the Russians and Germans. Tatiana together with her sister Olga and their mother were helping to tend the wounded and the brief times that Dimitri and Tatiana spent together was the beginning of a love that would be both wonderful and the cause of so much heartache and danger.
This is a story spanning the years from 1914, including the Bolshevik revolution in 1918 and then in later years up to 2016. The research has been meticulous and the setting, the characters and the turmoil and brutality of the revolution were all bought to life. From the extravagance and opulence of the Tsar and his family – they gave each other Faberge eggs as presents and, later, with the Romanov women sewing their precious jewels in their underclothes for safekeeping; to the dreadfully harsh conditions suffered by the poorest of Russian citizens giving rise to the revolution and then the cruelty and determination of the Red Army to take control and to rid Russia of the wealthiest and most hated families – particularly the Romanov Royal family.
I became completely absorbed in the lives of Dimitri and Tatiana. Dimitri was a brave soldier but with an impulsive nature who was later to regret certain decisions he had made. Tatiana we knew slightly less about although she appeared to be a very brave and resilient young woman if a little naive and unworldly due to her family’s extreme wealth. Reference is made to her mother’s (Alexandra, the Tsarina) dependence on the healer and mystic, Rasputin, and the influence he had over the family. With her husband, the Tsar, away commanding his army, she was left in control. Because of her German ancestry, she was regarded with suspicion and thought by some of being a traitor during Russia’s war with Germany.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the rest of the story and risk spoiling it but I absolutely loved The Secret Wife and it will be on my top books of the year list for 2016. This is only the second book I have read by Gill Paul but what I love about her writing is the way her vivid descriptions bring the story alive, you can’t help but be pulled into the story and feel an emotional attachment to the characters.
The Secret Wife is a captivating and often emotional story of a fascinating and brutal period in history. Gill Paul has woven into history her own view of events. I would love to believe that her version is the true one.
At the time of writing this review, The Secret Wife is available to download from Amazon UK for just 99p. A bargain price for such a wonderful story.
My thanks to Helena and the publisher Avon for the paperback copy to review.
About the author:
Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in recent history. Her new novel, The Secret Wife, is about the romance between cavalry officer Dmitri Malama and Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Russia’s last tsar, who first met in 1914. It’s also about a young woman in 2016 deciding whether to forgive her husband after an infidelity.
Gill’s other novels include Women and Children First, about a young steward who works on the Titanic; The Affair, set in Rome in 1961–62 as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fall in love while making Cleopatra; and No Place for a Lady, about two Victorian sisters who travel out to the Crimean War of 1854–56 and face challenges beyond anything they could have imagined.
Gill also writes historical non-fiction, including A History of Medicine in 50 Objects (to be published 1st October 2016) and a series of Love Stories, each containing fourteen tales of real-life couples: how they met, why they fell for each other, and what happened in the end. Published around the world, this series includes Royal Love Stories, World War I Love Stories and Titanic Love Stories.
Gill was born in Glasgow and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. She started her own company producing books for publishers, along the way editing such luminaries as Griff Rhys Jones, John Suchet, John Julius Norwich, Ray Mears and Eartha Kitt. She also writes on health, nutrition and relationships.
Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and is a devotee of Pilates. She also particularly enjoys travelling on what she calls “research trips” and attempting to match-make for friends.