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Sashenkaby Simon Montefiore
Synopses & Reviews
In the bestselling tradition of Doctor Zhivago and Sophie's Choice, a sweeping epic of Russia from the last days of the Tsars to today's age of oligarchs — by the prizewinning author of Young Stalin.
Winter 1916: St. Petersburg, Russia, is on the brink of revolution. Outside the Smolny Institute for Noble Girls, an English governess is waiting for her young charge to be released from school. But so are the Tsar's secret police...
Beautiful and headstrong, Sashenka Zeitlin is just sixteen. As her mother parties with Rasputin and their dissolute friends, Sashenka slips into the frozen night to play her part in a dangerous game of conspiracy and seduction.
Twenty years on, Sashenka is married to a powerful, rising Red leader with whom she has two children. Around her people are disappearing, while in the secret world of the elite her own family is safe. But she's about to embark on a forbidden love affair that will have devastating consequences.
Sashenka's story lies hidden for half a century, until a young historian goes deep into Stalin's private archives and uncovers a heartbreaking tale of betrayal and redemption, savage cruelty and unexpected heroism — and one woman forced to make an unbearable choice.
"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 nave, 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Sashenka," Simon Montefiore's first novel, is a historical whodunit with the epic sweep of a Hollywood movie. The author of the best-selling biography "Young Stalin," Montefiore is a natural storyteller who brings his encyclopedic knowledge of Russian history to life in language that glitters like the ice of St. Petersburg. The first section of the novel takes place in 1916, as... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the Russian revolution approaches. In a harrowing opening, police arrest 16-year old Sashenka Zeitlin at her private school and whisk her off to prison where she is accused of being a Bolshevik: code name "Comrade Snowfox." Her wealthy father secures her release, but the accusations are true. Her uncle, a party linchpin, has been training her in Marxism and sending her on secret missions. Sashenka wants to distance herself from her dissolute parents and craves the purity of revolution, the purging of decadence. "There is no one as sanctimonious as a teenage idealist," reflects her interrogator. Montefiore writes nuanced female characters, and Sashenka evolves into a complex heroine. In the second part of the book, set in Moscow in 1939, she is a restless wife in an arranged party marriage, devoted to her two children even as she engages in a passionate affair with a Jewish writer. The novel picks up after Stalin's reign of terror, when no one was safe from the draconian system of fabricated crimes and forced confessions. Sashenka's husband is one of Stalin's key officers, and she is still, to some extent, a believer, although she knows that Stalin has the power to shatter her family on a whim. When the dictator pays an unannounced visit to their dacha, Sashenka watches in horror as her little girl teases him, aware that loyal party members have been turned into "former persons" for less. In the final third of the book, set in 1994, a young historian is charged with figuring out what happened to Sashenka and her family. Montefiore shows that the historian seeking the truth must call upon creativity as much as upon meticulous research. It must not have been a stretch for this biographer to turn novelist. Here's hoping we get more spellbinding historical fiction from him. Malena Watrous is a novelist and book critic in San Francisco. Reviewed by Malena Watrous, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"A dramatic, gripping tale. Sashenka's story, set against richly textured backgrounds — some lavish, some grim — makes this novel extraordinarily difficult to put down." Robert K. Massie, author of Nicholas and Alexandra
"Intensely moving, with an unforgettable climax that will touch the hardest heart." Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans and Mao
"The perfect mixture of history and clever storytelling, with wonderful female characters and a seriousness of purpose that stands out. Gripping from start to finish." Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth
"Furiously readable. A brilliantly plotted novel that brings home with unique intimacy the joys and hopes of Russian families, the Revolution, the horror of the thirties." Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List
"Montefiore's Sashenka shows us that the Soviet interlude in Russia's blood-spattered history still makes for a gripping read in the 21st century. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Montefiore's command of Russian history makes the novels details especially vibrant." Booklist
"[An] intriguing portrait of the people who brought down the czars and went on to serve the Soviet state during Stalinism." New York Times
"For a first novel, it is an impressively well-constructed and imagined narrative." Dallas Morning News
"As a tale of the Soviet dream turned nightmare, Sashenka is unforgettable, but its ambitions — and rewards — are even greater." Wall Street Journal
"[S]uccessfully recreates a Russia about which we still have much to learn, even as it tells a story too near the truth to be forgotten anytime soon." Christian Science Monitor
"Montefiore has spent years in Russia...and his deep knowledge of the country and its history is evident, especially so in his depictions of Stalin's regime." Seattle Times
From the bestselling author of Young Stalin comes a sweeping novel of Russia in the early 20th century — a captivating tale of love, politics, family, and survival.
About the Author
Simon Sebag Montefiore is a historian of Russia and author of Potemkin: Catherine the Great's Imperial Partner; Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar; and the bestselling Young Stalin, awarded the 2007 Costa Biography Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography. Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Montefiore lives in London with his wife, the novelist Santa Montefiore, and their two children.
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