The Lost Daughter

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Historical fiction novelist Gill Paul’s latest novel, The Lost Daughter, released just last year, is a thrilling and captivating story of love, loss, perseverance and discovery. Covering roughly 90 years, the Lost Daughter centres around the lives of its two female protagonists, Maria, the third eldest Romanov daughter, who miraculously survives after the rest of her family is executed, and Australian resident Val, who is not only determined to move on from her abusive partner Tony, but also discover the truth behind her parents’ unclear past. Told through the alternate perspectives of these two women, Gill Paul’s the Lost Daughter is a novel rich in historical detail and emotion, which quickly and easily draws readers in, maintaining their attention right until the surprising and unexpected conclusion.

After a brief and haunting prologue which foreshadows the tragic end of the royal Romanov family, the novel flashes back to three months earlier, beginning chapter one from Maria’s point of view. At 18, Maria is an innocent young girl, unaware of life’s hardships and dilemmas, having only known privilege and luxury because of her families’ prestigious status. However this changes after Maria’s family is put under house arrest, first in their home at the Alexander palace and now in a house in the town of Ekaterinburg. Although Maria is grateful to be with her family, she hates the bleak environment. Every day she longs for the freedom she previously had and dreams of falling in love and getting married, naively believing that her family will soon be sent further away into exile.

Less than two months later, Maria’s naive beliefs are proven wrong when she witnesses her parents, siblings and close family servants being killed. Believed to be dead by her murderers, Maria is loaded onto a truck along with the others who have been killed and driven to an isolated forest area where all the bodies are to be disposed of. However, when Peter, a familiar guard from the Ekaterinburg house, notices that Maria is still miraculously alive, he makes a serious decision that forever changes their lives.

Over the next couple of months, the two attempt to get as far away from Ekaterinburg as possible in order to be safe. With only themselves to rely on, Maria and Peter are forced to figure out how to survive, which presents its fair share of challenges. Even more difficult however, is moving on and letting go of the past. Maria still desperately clings to the belief that her older sister Tatianna also survived and can’t give up her family’s jewels, a decision that results in severe consequences.

Chapter eight flashes forward 55 years, shifting to the perspective of Val Scott, the novel’s second protagonist, providing the first glimpse into her troubled life. At 35, Val thought she had moved on from the pain, loss and bad memories of childhood. However, her past re-emerges after she receives a surprise phone call from the nurse at her father’s care home. Although Val hasn’t spoken to her estranged father in the past eighteen years, she reluctantly agrees to visit, curious to learn whether there is any truth, or genuine concern behind the alarming statements, “I didn’t mean to kill her. There’s so much blood,” which he keeps repeating. Unfortunately for Val, her visit is a disappointment since she learns nothing and shrugs off his comments as simply “just repeating something he heard.”  Two months later, Val’s father passes, leaving her the sole inheritor of his home and possessions. Despite Val’s desire to quickly sell the home and put the past behind her, this proves to be impossible. While looking through the items in her father’s home, Val’s curiosity regarding her past is reignited when she comes across old letters from her mother, and a bag of Russian antiques including an unopenable jewellery box, and a Kodak autographic camera with undeveloped film inside. This discovery begins Val’s long and difficult journey to unravel the secrets of her past, one which leads her towards unexpected truth, love and family along the way.

As the novel progresses, both Maria and Val experience hardship, pain, joy, heartbreak, love and loss. In the process, they learn how to move on with their life and let go of the past, opening themselves up to new possibilities and relationships and by the end, it becomes clear just how completely intertwined their lives actually are.

While much of the novel is fictional, Paul has impressively managed to weave in many historically accurate details, such as Maria’s personality and character, the Romanov execution, the events in Russia and the places Val visits, in order to create a very captivating and unique story. Within the historical record, Maria has been described as an intellectual, beautiful, friendly, flirtatious, physically strong and outgoing and this is exactly how she is depicted throughout the entire book. The Romanov execution part was written based off the accounts of the men who witnessed and participated and the tough and brutal experiences of life in Stalinist Russia, including the siege of Leningrad in World War II, was based on known information, as well as the diaries and memories of survivors. Additionally, even though the second protagonist is fictional, the places she visits and events occurring are historically based.

Although the mainstream belief is that the entire Romanov family, along with four of their servants, were killed on the evening of July 16, 1918, some historians have suggested that because there have been problems with identifying all the bodies, one member somehow survived. Paul’s novel alludes to this possibility, not only presenting Maria as an ordinary girl whose only life error was “being born into the wrong family at the wrong time,” but also provides one creative outlook on what Maria’s life may have been like if she had survived that tragic night. Despite being a bit lengthy, the Lost Daughter is another must read novel from Gill Paul, which is not only historically-based and beautifully written, but also extremely difficult to put down.

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