The Lost Daughter

Written by Gill Paul
Review by Edward James

The idea that at least one of the children of Tsar Nicholas II might have survived the murder of the Romanov royal family at Ekaterinburg in July 1918 has fascinated writers of both fiction and purported fact for the last 100 years. Gill Paul’s book does not claim to be more than a novel, although it’s grounded in impressive research.

The surviving child in Paul’s book is 18-year-old Grand Duchess Maria, not Anastasia or Alexei, who are the usual candidates. The story is told in two time streams. The historic one follows Maria from her escape from Ekaterinburg to her death in Leningrad in 1979, with an epilogue in 2007. It thus covers a 60-year sweep of Russian history, including the Famine of 1921, the Great Terror of the 1930s and the Siege of Leningrad in 1942. The modern stream is set in the 1970s and follows a woman in Australia who is researching the mysterious past of her late father, a Russian emigre, while at the same time handling the breakdown of her marriage.

Although twin time streams are a common device in historical novels, it is difficult to make them equally compelling. So often the drama of the historic stream trivialises the events of the modern one. This is an obvious danger here, but Paul succeeds in keeping our interest in both these very different stories until she finally brings them neatly together.