Author: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Part of a Series: Sashenka is its prequel
Type of book: Russia, forbidden love, end of WWII, relationships, Pushkin, unmemorable characters, Stalin, Moscow, movies, paranoia, state secrets
Year it was published: 2013
The acclaimed novelist and prizewinning historian Simon Sebag Montefiore explores the consequences of forbidden love in this heartbreaking epic, inspired by a true story that unfolds in Stalin's Russia during the bleak days after World War II.
A jubilant Moscow is celebrating the Soviet Union's victory over Hitler when gunshots ring out though the city's crowded streets. In the shadow of the Kremlin, a teenage boy and girl are found dead. But this is no ordinary tragedy, because these are no ordinary teenagers. As the children of high-ranking Soviet officials, they inhabit a rarefied world that revolves around the exclusive Josef Stalin Commune School 801. The school, which Stalin's own children attended, is an enclave of privilege—but, as the deaths reveal, one that hides a wealth of secrets. Were these deaths an accident, a suicide pact . . . or murder?
Certain that a deeper conspiracy is afoot, Stalin launches a ruthless investigation. In what comes to be known as the Children's Case, youths from all over Moscow are arrested by state security services and brought to the infamous interrogation rooms of the Lubyanka, where they are forced to testify against their friends and their families. Among the casualties of these betrayals are two pairs of illicit lovers, who find themselves trapped at the center of Stalin's witch hunt. As the Children's Case follows its increasingly terrifying course, these couples discover that the decision to follow one's heart comes at a terrible price.
A haunting evocation of a time and place in which the state colluded to corrupt and destroy every dream, One Night in Winter is infused with the desperate intrigue of a political thriller. The eminent historian Simon Sebag Montefiore weaves fact and fiction into a richly compelling saga of sacrifice and survival, populated by real figures from the past. But within the darkness shines a deeply human love story, one that transcends its moment as it masterfully explores our capacity for loyalty and forgiveness.
I really couldn't grasp the characters, unfortunately. Heck, I didn't even like or understand any characters. Somehow, the author fails to pierce the characters and instead they are more told than show. The characters seemed to be very unrealistic and personally for me not likable. Serafima is built out to be an annoying goddess that everyone seems to worship and want to protect. There is also Hercules Satinov who is the silent type and is Stalin's right-hand man and also has a secret. Other characters that stood out for me were Dashka Dorova who happened to be Jewish and Andrei Kurbsky whose father happened to be enemy of the state. Most of the times I can identify and give out the characters' personalities, but something is off when I can't do it in this book.
In Russia, beware of everything and everyone.
The book itself is written in third person narrative from everyone's point of view, and the plot is very uneven and disjointed which made it a frustrating read. The beginning begins with the fateful day when the Pushkin duel went wrong, then we jump into few weeks ago when Andrei, whose father is thought of as Enemy of the State, arrives at School 801 and meets the friends. Ugh, that's where unreality begins for me: I did ask my parents about that possibility, just to be sure. In Russia, there's equality and then there's equality, and what I mean is that while there is equality, some are more equal than others. Considering that Andrei's father is Enemy of the State, its highly improbable that these wealthy kids would want to be friends with him, especially in Russia where connections matter, and you can get in trouble for being someone's friend. And also, its a bid odd that the teachers seem to be familiar with Andrei's background, while the kids don't know squat. Some of the characters in the book are half-Jewish, and yes, I asked my parents about that too. I'm not sure if its the wealth, or what, but normally being Jewish or having any Jewish ancestry would get you made fun of all the time, or you'd have to resort to being fierce to protect self. And even though its WWII, the Jewish characters remained untouched, which is odd. Also, after getting back a little, then the readers go further back in time to learn about another pair, and then go back to find out Serafima's mysterious "secret" and finally we settle in the present time. The writing style is very simplistic and the characters' feelings aren't very believable.
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s bestselling books are published in more than forty languages. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Sashenka. As a historian, his works include Jerusalem: The Biography, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, and Young Stalin, which was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, the Costa Biography Prize (UK), and Le Grand Prix de Biographie Politique (France).
Is it okay for me to say I didn't like this book, and that I was very disappointed with it? Allow me to explain further: when I chose to do a book review for it, I was excited. I come from Moscow Russia and I thought for certain that I'd love this book. Long ago I read a bit of Children of Arbat by Anatoli Rybakov and I'll never forget what I experienced when I read it: how I felt in an enclosed box with a million eyes watching me from everywhere and how badly I wanted to be let out. Thus I hoped that reading One Night in Winter, I'd experience something like that, but I didn't. When I learned what it deals with, I asked my parents if they have heard of the Children's Case: they hadn't. And I did try to research and the only times its talked about is when it comes to this book. (I'm not implying that the author made it up, but just that its not as famous as he hopes.) When it comes to history the author does get it right, but certain other things really irritated me a whole lot, characters in particular.
All of this comes from personal experience.
This is for TLC Book Tour
Simon’s Tour Stops
Wednesday, May 7th: Man of La Book
Monday, May 12th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, May 13th: Ace and Hoser Blook
Wednesday, May 14th: Dwell in Possibility
Thursday, May 15th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, May 20th: More Than Just Magic
Wednesday, May 21st: Read Lately
Thursday, May 22nd: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, May 22nd: Walking With Nora
Monday, May 26th: Book-alicious Mama
Monday, May 26th: Books in the Burbs
Tuesday, May 27th: Bookfoolery and Babble
Wednesday, May 28th: The House of the Seven Tails
Monday, June 2nd: The Written World
Tuesday, June 3rd: Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, June 5th: Read. Write. Repeat.
TBD: Bibliophilia, Please
2 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)