One Night in Winter, Simon Sebag Montefiore

If your children were forced to testify against you, what terrible secrets would they reveal?

Moscow 1945. As Stalin and his courtiers celebrate victory over Hitler, shots ring out. On a nearby bridge, a teenage boy and girl lie dead.

But this is no ordinary tragedy and these are no ordinary teenagers, but the children of Russia’s most important leaders who attend the most exclusive school in Moscow.

Is it murder? A suicide pact? Or a conspiracy against the state?

Directed by Stalin himself, an investigation begins as children are arrested and forced to testify against their friends – and their parents. This terrifying witch-hunt soon unveils illicit love affairs and family secrets in a hidden world where the smallest mistakes will be punished with death.

Publisher: Century, September 2013

Reviewer:  Kirsten Savage

“As the pink-fractured sky darkens, she is struck by the most unbearable certainty: that this is the last night of their childhoods.”

Set in Russia just after WWII, this is a story about the lives of children and young adults in a world of secrets.

A tense and mysterious atmosphere is present in the story from the very beginning. From the action packed prologue to the subtle introduction of the main characters, many words are left suspiciously unspoken. There is an air of secrecy to this novel that makes it a compelling and irresistible read. Who are these people? Where are they going? What are they hiding? When the secrets are revealed,they only lead to more questions.

From a technical point of view, One Night in Winter is very well written. The historical references are perfectly sound; the style is elegant and clear; and the author switches viewpoints regularly to give the reader a superb view of the events taking place. In fact, rarely does a book with so many viewpoint characters feel so intimate. Even though it is written in third person it  is very clear what the characters are thinking and feeling throughout the story.

As can be expected from a book set in post-war Russia under Stalin’s reign, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The storyline is dark, maybe even twisted at points. Perhaps it holds a perfect mirror to life, with its dark moments, light moments and moments that are neither good nor bad but simply unavoidable.At times it can be hard to remember that it is just fiction.

Be warned, anyone reading this book may require a box of tissues; friends who won’t be offended by being ignored in favour of a book; and, on occasion, a glass of iced water. Harrowingly real, majestically written and fiercely romantic, One Night in Winter is a masterpiece, but I’d best stop talking before I get accused of Bourgeois sentimentalism.

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