Saturday, February 22, 2014

ONE NIGHT IN WINTER by Simon Sebag Montefiore

  It has taken me a few days to digest One Night in Winter so that I could write an objective review of this exceptional book.  I was excited to read it since I enjoy historical fiction and I knew the story was set in Moscow during Stalin's rule just after the end of World War II.  Of course I realized that it would probably involve Lubianka Prison and Stalin's paranoid imprisonment and torture of suspects. Despite that, when reading the book, I got very upset.

I suppose my reaction is a tribute to the author's characterizations; I worried about the fictional characters as though they were real.  There is a mix of actual historical figures and fictional people.  The real ones other than Stalin tend to be the yes-men who did his bidding.

The plot involves a group of children, some teens, some younger, who attend School 108.  That's where the wealthy and/or connected Muscovites send their children.  One teacher surprisingly is allowed to teach romantic Russian literature, mainly Pushkin.  The students are so caught up in Pushkin in fact that they organize a secret club of sorts dedicated to reciting passages and re-enacting a duel from one of Pushkin's books.  They borrow dueling pistols that don't fire and costumes from the drama department and meet for these duels.  On Victory Day after the big parade in front of the Kremlin they have their duel in a park at the end of a bridge.  Suddenly two of them are dead of gunshot wounds.

The investigation into this tragedy pulls the children, their families, and the school staff in.  Stalin's people decide this children's club is an organization with the mission of overthrowing the government.  The ridiculous extent of the government's suspicions is nevertheless believable.  I could feel the terror as people, no matter how well connected, are afraid to speak to each other in their own homes, and must whisper where the children cannot hear because they might be questioned.  I can't add more without spoiling the book for you.

I do highly recommend this book but with the caveat that readers who know their Soviet Union history may be greatly affected.

Source:  Amazon Vine


  1. Wow, that sounds amazing even for people like me who don't know Soviet history well.

  2. That's kind of weird because Pushkin has always been a hero of the Soviet Union, even in Stalin's time.

  3. Well, I'm super weak on Soviet history, but would still like to try this one.

    Have a good week Barbara.