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Sashenka    by Simon Montefiore order for
by Simon Montefiore
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

This is a wonderful story set in Russia and sweeping over the 20th century, a horrendous time of many changes. Through Sashenka, a beautiful and intelligent woman, we witness the life of the Russian aristocracy, the inner workings of the Bolsheviks and Communists and, at the end of the century, the life of the oligarchs.

Author Montefiore is a historian of Russia in this period, and his expertise shows. We are fully involved with not only the ruling classes but also ordinary citizens whose lives are totally disrupted during this tumultuous time ... 'For the Party, I'd do anything. I've done anything. Yes, I know what it is to break a man. Some break like a matchstick, some die rather than say a word. But better to shoot a hundred innocent men than let one spy escape, better a thousand.'

In the end, it is the women who are able to keep some sanity, mostly on behalf of their innocent children. So the story turns on how Sashenka is able to keep her children safe and then, what really happened to them. The book has three parts, the first two of which are beautifully written and in which Sashenka is vividly present to us. The last part describes the search for her children, and it feels different. The bureaucratic nightmare modern researchers must navigate is not as interesting, and, especially at the end, the plot unravels so quickly it seems contrived.

Nevertheless, pages demand to be turned because we really do want the answers to the puzzle. For an in-depth look at what life must have been like in this period, this novel is definitely recommended.

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