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Sashenka: A Novel Hardcover – November 11, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (November 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416595546
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416595540
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,011,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Simon Sebag Montefiore's bestselling, prize-winning books are now published in over 45 languages. A historian specializing in Russia and the Middle East, Dr Montefiore's next major book is 'The Romanovs 1613-1918', a full political, cultural and personal history of the 19 tsars of the dynasty that ruled Russia for over 300 years and an analysis of the nature of Russian empire, to be published in 2016.

'Potemkin: Catherine the Great's Imperial Partner' was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper, and Marsh Biography Prizes. 'Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar' won the History Book of the Year Prize, British Book Awards. 'Young Stalin' won LA Times Book Prize for Biography (USA), the Costa Biography Award (UK), the Kreisky Prize for Political Literature (Austria) and Le Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique (France). Both Stalin biographies were bestsellers internationally. 'Jerusalem: the Biography' won the Jewish Book of the Year Prize in the USA and was number one non-fiction bestseller in the UK and an international bestseller.

He is also the author of two novels. 'One Night in Winter' won the Best Political Novel of the Year Prize in Britain and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize. His thriller-love-stories set in Russia - 'One Night in Winter' and 'Sashenka' - are both in paperback.

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Visiting Professor at Buckingham University, he is the presenter of three BBC tv series, Jerusalem(2011); Rome (2012) and Istanbul/Constantinople -'Byzantium: a tale of 3 cities'(2013). He was educated at Harrow School and Caius College, Cambridge University where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy.
Twitter: @simonmontefiore
For more information: www.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Vlad G VINE VOICE on June 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
What British historian could ever tell me, the former USSR citizen, about Russia and its history, especially Soviet history?

This is what I thought before opening the book. I do not quite like historical novels in the first place. And after reading all range of Russian authors from Tolstoy to Shalamov I thought to have a right to be skeptical.

I was wrong.

Montefiore's book sucked me in like a giant black hole. Frankly, I have never read any "foreign" book about Russia that is so true in events, details, characters and language.
When I read the first chapter I was almost shocked by incredible style of Simon's writing. I could not believe I was reading an *English* text. I do not understand the magic, I do not know how it is done, but if you want to get an impression how original Tolstoy's text would *feel* in Russian - just read the first chapter of Sashenka.

Interestingly, Simon keep changing the writing style as story progress in time eventually making it more and more "soviet", but original chapter's style is unbeatable.

Another moment I want to mention - Simon mixes real and fictional heroes in this novel. Some heroes are 100% real and under their real names, some others (like Sashenka herself) are mix of several people, many of which are easily recognizable if you know this historical period and finally some characters are completely fictional. I ended up Googling some of fictional characters to make sure they were fictional, because Simon made them so incredibly realistic.

And, of course not only characters are alive, the every page of the book is. Simon managed to take tons of dusty yellow pages from almost (and up to date) inaccessible KGB archives and resurrected them to tell us their stories. Well, this is all merged into one story, the story that is just not possible to characterize in a short review. Just read the book, it's brilliant.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is an outstanding work from a serious scholar of Russian history. I'll be interested to try one of his nonfiction books. The author's knowledge of period details, mindsets, and customs really makes this novel stand out. There are so many fascinating little extras.
My summaries of the sections are deliberately vague, as I think it's essential to be in the dark about where the story is going for best enjoyment. All three of the parts are very nicely tied in with each other by the end of the novel.

Part I: 1916--Sashenka Zeitlin is a willful and reckless 16-year-old. Her father is wealthy and influential, so the family is allowed to live in St. Petersburg rather than in the Pale of Settlement with the other Jews. Sashenka rejects the excesses and debauchery of her Tsarist parents and becomes a Bolshevik spy.

Part II: 1939 Moscow--Sashenka is now married to a Party leader and has two small children. She has remained a loyal Party member for over 20 years and still supports Stalin and the Soviet system. Just when they think the purging and "The Terror" is over, the arrests and disappearances start up again. This time, Sashenka fears that she and her husband may be targeted.

Part III: 1994 Moscow and London--Katinka, a young historian, is hired in London by Roza Getman to find out what happened to Roza's family in Russia during the years of Stalin's Terror. In the course of her research, Katinka stumbles upon Sashenka's story. This part of the book was what sealed the deal for me on the five-star rating. I could not stop reading. It's a great mystery with the clock running down and old-timers trying to keep their secrets safe.

Overall very well written and engaging.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Simon Sebag Montefiore's grasp of the Stalinist era is masterful, and it's that historical detail that makes this book work. Alas, he is less adept at the art of fiction.
Still, this novel, as the author himself notes in his conclusion/afterword, admirably fulfills his goal of making the horrors of the Stalinist Terror live for the contemporary reader, particularly those who aren't likely to pick up Sebag Montefiore's superb books about Stalin himself, Young Stalin or Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. For those who have read the superb book about the impact of these years on ordinary Soviet citizens, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia, this provides a fictional counterpart, one where imagination takes over and the reader following Sebag Montefiore's plot can transport themselves into the world his lead character, Sashenka, inhabited. Fortunately the reader, unlike Sashenka, can also escape this closed and paranoid world.
Sebag Montefiore's strength is portraying that world, from the corrupt decadence of the final years of Tsarist rule (which takes the reader from palaces to prisons) and the claustrophobic paranoia of the 1930s, which Sashenka herself displays almost without realizing it when she discovers that Stalin and his leaders, including Lavrenti Beria, have honored her dacha with a visit on the eve of May Day -- a visit that, on the surface a triumph, will hold unexpected and disastrous consequences for Sashenka and everyone around her.
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