Summary and book reviews of Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Sashenka

A Novel

By Simon Sebag Montefiore

Sashenka
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2008,
    544 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2009,
    544 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

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.

1.

The shy northern sun had already set by teatime when three of the Tsar's gendarmes took up positions at the gates of the Smolny Institute for Noble Girls. The end of term at the finest girls' boarding school in St. Petersburg was no place for policemen but there they were, unmistakable in their smart navy-blue tunics with white trimming, shiny sabers, and lambskin helmets with sultan-spikes. One clicked his fingers impatiently, another opened and closed the leather holster of his Mauser revolver and the third stood stolidly, legs wide, with his thumbs stuck into his belt. Behind them waited a traffic jam of horse-drawn sleighs, emblazoned gold and crimson with family crests, and a couple of gleaming limousines. The slow, slanting snowfall was visible only in the flickering halo of streetlights and the amber lamps of touring cars.

It was the third winter of the Great War and it seemed the darkest and the longest so far. Through the black gates, down the paved avenue, the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

A remarkable novel with an unforgettable protagonist. I found myself haunted by this book for quite some time after I turned the final page. Historian Montefiore shows much promise as a novelist, particularly if he can avoid the banalities pervading the early sections of this, his first fictional attempt. This book is sure to please readers interested in Russia's recent history.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Library Journal

Starred Review. 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.

The Times (UK)

I spent the first 50 pages of the book shouting at it: too much brand-name dropping; too schmaltzy by half; and whatever happened to the horror? Had the author forgotten the horror? But, as the novel fast-forwarded to Sashenka's own comeuppance - 20 years later, when she and the rest of the Stalin aristocracy created by the revolution find themselves at the mercy of a secret police going mad on absolute power - my scepticism evaporated.

The Spectator (UK)

Sashenka is a novel with many qualities, and when judged specifically as a first novel, it is excellent. It’s no surprise that the historical detail is strong, but it is impressive that the author never gets mired in it; Montefiore deploys his historical knowledge as a means to an end, rather than as the end in itself. The characterisation is superb, with Sashenka being especially well drawn ... The novel loses some quality, however, through its pacing, particularly midway.

The Scotsman

Sashenka is grand in scale, rich in historical research, and yet never loses the flow of an addictive, racy, well-wrought plot. Sashenka combines a moving, satisfyingly just-neat-enough finale with a warning – that history has an awful habit of repeating itself. "All of us sin," the Rabbi tells Sashenka's father. "Without the choice, goodness would be meaningless".

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

Agile plotting, vivid characterisation and the exuberant spectacle of a well-informed author enjoying a flourish of serious frivolity - convoluted plot twists, astonishing coincidences, tear-jerking family separations and all - combine to make Sashenka an addictive page-turner with an elegant, steely edge of verisimilitude.

Reader Reviews
Sandy W

Great read
This book was a classic for historical fiction in that it gave me so much information dealing with a period in history I know little about. Sashenka's life and dealings with the KGB were fascinating as well as how the existence of the secret police ...   Read More

Vivian

Sashenka
Well written and descriptive of the time. One forgets exactly how dangerous it was to live in the time of such upheaval in Russia. The Czar is deposed and killed and the people think/hope/believe it will be a better place to live. The era under ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Short Biography of Rasputin
Rasputin's role within St. Petersburg's high society is detailed throughout the first section of Sashenka.

Gregori Yefimovich Rasputin was born in a small village in Siberia in 1864 or 1865. At the age of 18 he was sent to a monastery, possibly as a penance for a minor theft. He returned a changed man, and embarked on the life of a religious mystic. He married in 1889 and had three children. In 1901 he started traveling, spending time in Greece and Jerusalem, eventually settling in St. Petersburg in 1903 as a self-proclaimed holy man, healer and prophet.

He was initially well-received by the Russian Orthodox Church in St Petersburg. He was charismatic, with a talent for calming people and ...

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