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Sashenka

The story of a fictional family followed through several generations of turbulent Russian history.

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Simon Montefiore is a historian and if you have any interest in Russia you probably know his name. Last year his chilling biography “Young Stalin” was on bestseller lists across the United States.

Montefiore has the gift of writing you-are-there history and “Young Stalin” has an intimacy that turns its readers, in the words of one reviewer, into “eerily privileged insider[s].”

Now Montefiore has taken his penetrating view of Russian history (he is also the author of “Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar” and “Potemkin: Catherine the Great’s Imperial Partner”) and used it to frame a novel. Sashenka traces a fictional family through several generations of turbulent Russian history. The result is a thriller spliced throughout with dark, photo-realistic images of the terror of Stalinist Russia.

“Sashenka” begins in Czarist Russia in 1916, on the eve of the revolution. A British governess sits in a chauffeur-driven car outside an elite St. Petersburg boarding school. She is waiting for Sashenka, her beautiful young charge, who is also the adored apple of her eye. Sashenka finally arrives – only to be arrested immediately by the Czar’s secret police.

The aristocratic adolescent, it seems, has been taking lessons in Marxism from her radical uncle and is now working for the revolution. She spends a night in jail before being rescued through the connections of her wealthy father.

It turns out, however, that you can take the girl out of prison more easily than you can remove the revolution from the girl. Sashenka has become a believer.

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