BLURB: “Leningrad, 1941: the white nights of summer illuminate a city of fallen grandeur whose palaces and avenues speak of a different age, when Leningrad was known as St. Petersburg. Two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha, share the same bed, living in one room with their brother and parents. The routine of their hard, impoverished life is shattered on 22 June 1942 when Hitler invades Russia. For the Metanov family, for Leningrad, and particularly for Tatiana, life will never be the same again. On that fateful day, Tatiana meets a brash young man named Alexander. The family suffers as Hitler’s army advances on Leningrad, and the Russian winter closes in. With bombs falling and the city under siege, Tatiana and Alexander are drawn inexorably to each other, but theirs is a love that could tear Tatiana’s family apart, and at its heart lies a secret that could mean death to anyone who hears it. Confronted on the one hand by Hitler’s vast war machine, and on the other by a Soviet system determined to crush the human spirit, Tatiana and Alexander are pitted against the very tide of history, at a turning point in the century that made the modern world.”
REVIEW: Okay, so I have two other books that I read prior to this one and which, technically, I should be reviewing first. But this book was recommended to me recently by a colleague and friend, with the warning that although it was her favourite book, it would break me – and she was definitely, one hundred percent right. This book is so unbelievably amazing that I had to write about it straight away; just like I had to read it for five hours solid yesterday just to finish, just like I consumed pretty much a whole pack of biscuits to deal with the emotional trauma of reading it, and just like I sobbed so hard for the last fifty pages that a lot of the words turned into a big blur and I had to keep going back and re-reading parts. This epic novel tells the story of Tatiana, who starts off at the beginning of the novel as a rather lazy, slightly selfish, and pretty hopeless young girl. The moment a soldier named Alexander crosses the street to speak to her, however, both of their lives are set to change and become intertwined in ways that will bring them danger and hurt those around them, but will also bring them love and hope in a time of terror. The blossoming relationship between Tatiana and Alexander turns sour when Tatiana discovers that Alexander is the man that her sister, Dasha, claims to have fallen deeply in love with. Refusing to be with Alexander and destroy her sister’s happiness, Tatiana finds herself pursued relentlessly by Alexander’s companion, Dimitri, and struggles to hide her feelings for Alexander; yet the two are bound together not only by their secret love for one another, but also by the secret that Alexander has kept hidden from everyone except her, a secret that could lead them all into danger. As the siege on Leningrad worsens, food becomes scarce, and one by one Tatiana’s family begins to slowly diminish, the situation growing more desperate when a blockade is enforced. With only Dasha left to her, Tatiana is determined not to ruin her sister’s happiness, but the pain she endures in doing so is heartbreaking for the reader to witness, particularly as Alexander’s skillful acting leads her to doubt his true feelings for her. Constantly seprated and reunited by war, Tatiana and Alexander both go through hell in their effort to stay apart, but never stop loving each other. When Tatiana and Dasha flee from Leningrad with Alexander’s help, it seems the two will never see him again, as as Dasha dies in her sister’s arms the reader begins to truly despair for Tatiana, who it seems is destined never to find happiness and whose suffering has reached paramount height. Having suffered years of starvation, been denied her love, lost her family and taken a dangerous journey across Russia that has killed the last family member she has left, it is hard to believe that things could get worse for Tatiana. And, suddenly, things do at last seem to be looking up. Alexander discovers Tatiana and the two finally achieve their happily ever after (be prepared for a number of pages of sex scenes – thankfully, unlike a lot of historical fiction I have read, these scenes are extremely well-written and didn’t make me want to dig a hole and bury myself in it forever out of embarrassment) – but it is not to last. At this point I feel it would be safest not to describe any more of the plot; I adored this book and I don’t want the ending to be spoilt for anyone. The final part of the book had such a huge emotional impact on me and I would hope that any one else who reads this novel will feel the same. I cannot possibly describe how much this book made me feel; it is so beautifully written, but Simons does not shy away from the darkness and harsh truths of this period of history, and it is the stark contrast between the terrifying atmosphere of the oppressive Soviet Union and the pure beauty of Alexander and Tatiana’s love that, I believe, makes the book so beautiful and moving. I don’t think I have ever cried so much at any book before; when I reached the end I felt truly broken, and I can only hope that the next two novels are just as brilliant as this one. If they are, then Simons deserves a serious reward. Just make sure you have some tissues handy; and the biscuits helped, too.