From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Lauded historian Montefiore (Young Stalin
) ventures successfully into fiction with the epic story of Sashenka Zeitlin, a privileged Russian Jew caught up in the romance of the Russian revolution and then destroyed by the Stalinist secret police. The novel's first section, set in 1916, describes how, under the tutelage of her Bolshevik uncle, Sashenka becomes a naive, idealistic revolutionary charmed by her role as a courier for the underground and rejecting her own bourgeois background. Skip forward to 1939, when Sashenka and her party apparatchik husband are at the zenith of success until Sashenka's affair with a disgraced writer leads to arrests and accusations; in vivid scenes of psychological and physical torture, Sashenka is forced to choose between her family, her lover and her cause. But as this section ends, many questions remain, and it is up to historian Katinka Vinsky in 1994 to find the answers to what really happened to Sashenka and her family. Montefiore's prose is unexciting, but the tale is thick and complex, and the characters' lives take on a palpable urgency against a wonderfully realized backdrop. Readers with an interest in Russian history will particularly delight in Sashenka's story. (Nov.)
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An adolescent schoolgirl from a privileged family of Jewish lineage, whose ideas of politics and revolution come from novels, Sashenka Zeitlin comes face-to-face with reality when she is arrested by czarist secret police in 1916 St. Petersburg. Undeterred by this and encouraged by her uncle, an associate of Lenin, she throws herself into the Bolshevik movement, becoming a double agent and hastening the dawn of the Soviet Union. By 1939, Sashenka has become a mother, married to a Communist official. Living in relative ease, they host parties of such repute that even Stalin attends. Despite the couple’s surviving unscathed Stalin’s purges of 1937 and 1938, the revolution’s need to devour its children eventually overtakes even true believers made especially vulnerable by indiscreet love affairs. In 1994 the Soviet Union has collapsed, but Sashenka’s legacy cannot so easily be put to rest. Montefiore’s command of Russian history makes the novel’s details especially vibrant. --Mark Knoblauch