MLA Gold Award Site

Summary and book reviews of Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Sashenka

A Novel

by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Sashenka
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Nov 2008, 544 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2009, 544 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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).

Full Review Members Only (691 words).

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 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.

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".

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

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

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 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Sashenka, try these:

  • The Kindness of Enemies jacket

    The Kindness of Enemies

    by Leila Aboulela

    Published 2016

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A versatile prose stylist... [Aboulela's] lyrical style and incisive portrayal of Muslims living in the West received praise from the Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee... [she is] a voice for multiculturalism." - New York Times

  • The Romanov Sisters jacket

    The Romanov Sisters

    by Helen Rappaport

    Published 2015

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    They were the Princess Dianas of their day - perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The Romanov Sisters captures the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Atomic Weight of Love
    The Atomic Weight of Love
    by Elizabeth Church
    A prologue set in 2011 introduces readers to this novel's unforgettable narrator. Meridian ...
  • Book Jacket: Murder at the 42nd Street Library
    Murder at the 42nd Street Library
    by Con Lehane
    It doesn't matter if you're stopping in your favorite library to quickly pick up a book, or settling...
  • Book Jacket: The Loney
    The Loney
    by Andrew Hurley
    Landscape can be a writer's best friend. Whether it's the mountains of England's lake...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Alaskan Laundry
    by Brendan Jones

    A fresh debut novel about a young woman who moves to Alaska and finds herself through the hard work of fishing.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Win this book!
Win The Children

From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary

The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.

Enter

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Girl Waits with Gun
by Amy Stewart

An enthralling novel based on the forgotten true adventures of one of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I A Greek T M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.