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4.5 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this sweeping historical novel, a Russian girl from a wealthy Jewish family turns revolutionary and marries a high-level Bolshevik. She embarks on a disastrous affair years later that endangers her two children and twists her from a loyal Communist into yet another of Stalin's victims. The history and characters are fascinating, but the narration is marred by Anne Flosnik's flat characterization and implausible Russian accent, which evokes a bad Bela Lugosi imitation. Furthermore, her self-conscious diction prevents listeners from relaxing into the flow of the story. A Simon & Schuster hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 15).(Jan.)
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio; Unabridged CD edition (December 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400110076
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400110070
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 5.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,837,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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