Simon Montefiore is a historian, novelist and television presenter. His book, Catherine the Great and Potemkin 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 at the 2004 British Book Awards, and Young Stalin was chosen as Biography of the Year in the 2008 Costa Book Awards. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist, Santa Montefiore, and their two children.
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 naOve, 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.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Through the prisms of the years 1917, 1939, and 1994, Montefiore digs into the tribulations of one family as it strives to survive the upheavals of 20th-century Russia. The pampered darling of a bourgeois Jewish family, Sashenka converts to Bolshevism in her teens. She becomes a highly placed apparatchik, but that does not save her from the 1930s Stalinist purges. By 1994, families separated by war and exile are digging in the archives to find lost connections. Not-so-blind fate intervenes to produce a surprise ending for Sashenka's progeny. Montefiore, already a celebrated historian (Young Stalin), makes his fiction debut chillingly realistic with his close knowledge of Stalin and his circle. Indeed, the telling details of the era redeem the novel's somewhat stilted opening chapters. The Russian voices of Vassily Aksyonov and Boris Pasternak have recounted the personal tragedies of the era in their captivating books The Generations of Winter and Dr. Zhivago, respectively; 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/08.]-Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.