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Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore
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Sashenka (2008)

by Simon Sebag Montefiore

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Kako je jedna nesmotrenost,strast i ljubomora dovela do tragicnog unistenja jedne porodice.U Rusiji u doba Staljinizma izvrsene su cistke nelojalnih gradjana.Sasenjka je bila iz bogataske porodice,ali dokazana pripadnica Partije, supruga istaknutog clana Vanje ali je i pored toga upustila u ljubav sa jednim piscem. Usledila je lavina dogadjaja koja je dovela do njenog utamnicenja, i utamnicenja svih clanova njene porodice, a naposletku i njihove smrti. U vihoru tih desavanja Sasenjka i Vanja su spasili svoje dvoje djece Snjeskicu i Karla, sakrivsi ih daleko od ruke Staljina, ali je to znacilo nj razdvajanje. Sticajem okolnosti njezina unuka je poslije niza istoriskih traganja uspjela da spoji izgubljenu sestru i brata i sazna potresnu istinu.Knjiga se sporo vuce u prvih 250 strana, a poslije se cita u jednom dahu... ( )
  ceca78 | Apr 10, 2016 |
αρκετά καλό ( )
  varsa | Feb 28, 2016 |
Sashenka is a fascinating work of historical fiction set in three time periods in twentieth century Russia - 1916, 1939, and 1994.  The title character was born in 1900 to a wealthy Jewish family in St. Petersburg, but decides to follow her uncle and become a Bolshevik.  By 1939 she and her husband are part of the Communist elite, but then Sashenka makes a mistake that brings her world crashing down around her.  The third part of the book is set in 1994 with a historian of the day trying to find out what happened to Sashenka and her family.

The story is quite long (over 500 pages in print), but I learned SO much about Russian history.  Author Simon Montefiore has written a biography of Stalin as well as other nonfiction works about Russia,  His extensive background (and research experience in formerly-inaccessible Russian archives) serves him well in providing the settings and atmosphere of this story.  I truly felt I was *there* along with the characters.

The main weakness of this first novel for Montefiore are the amazing number of coincidences that make the third part of the book a reality.  Two major characters from the 1916 era have to live to very ripe old ages to make the events in the 1994 section possible.

I also found Anne Flosnik's reading of the audiobook to be problematic.  Her British accent is not an issue, it was her attempt to provide Russian accents that caused difficulty.  It was much harder than it needed to be to understand what many of the characters were saying.  I would have preferred for her to just use her normal voice and not try to (poorly) do accents.

Oh, but I do absolutely love the cover of this book

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library's digital collection. This review also appears on Bookin' It.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | Feb 15, 2016 |
A renowned biographer/historian writes a fairly gripping novel. Thick with historical detail - I almost lost sight of the characters, especially in the beginning, sometimes for the background details and the scenery. He even got a hand soap reference right!

Lots of treats for the Russian history buff - all the little details are there. One wonders how the average reader would be put off by them, however.

I won't venture into the plot in too much detail. But it can be assumed that a novel which takes place in 1917 St. Petersburg, and the worst of Stalinist Russia will have more than a few unsettling elements.

Recommended. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Most professional historians who write books tend to write nonfiction works in their particular field of study. Simon Sebag Montefiore has not only done that with his studies in Russian history, his biographies of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin were both award-winning bestsellers. Montefiore has since decided to apply his knowledge to the world of historical fiction. And while he may not find the same success with his first novel, Sashenka, his skills as a historian are fully on display and put to use.

We first meet the title character, Sashenka Zeitlin, in 1916, the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy Jewish arms merchant in St. Petersburg. While her father has ties to the Tsarist regime and her mother socializes with Rasputin, Sashenka has been captivated by Marxism. Her uncle trains her to become a Bolshevik operative who, among other things, is encouraged to try to turn a high-ranking police official into a double agent -- who intends to do the same with her. By the time the Tsarist regime falls, Sashenka becomes a secretary for Lenin.

Montefiore then takes us to 1939. Sashenka has become the model Soviet woman. She and her husband, an official in the NKVD, are among the Communist upper echelon who have survived Stalin's "Great Terror." Even though Stalin himself is a guest in their dacha, they ultimately discover that the end of mass purges doesn't render even loyal longtime Communists immune from the whims of Stalin and his secret police apparatus When we last see Sashenka in this section of the book, she is writing a confession in the NKVD's Lubyanka Prison.

The novel concludes in 1994, after the fall of the Soviet Union. A young Russian historian is hired to solve the mystery of what ultimately became of Sashenka and her family. This is actually where Montiefore's fiction talents are at their best. He manages to turn a plot based largely on someone digging through Communist archives -- both open and closed -- into a rather gripping story. This undoubtedly reflects what Montiefore himself has been through in writing his biographies of Stalin and enables him to turn a young female historian into a sleuth whose efforts have a surprising resolution.

One problem with the work, though, is that this section comes more than 350 page into the book. The book's descriptions of pre-revolutionary Russia and Stalin's Soviet Union will undoubtedly intrigue and entertain those with an interest in Russian history. Still, even they at times may feel somewhat worn by the amount of detail and some character usage that feels a tad disjointed. This also poses the risk that the detail may be too extensive to retain a reader more keen on a fast-paced story than a leisurely exploration of early 20th Century Russian life. Pleasure delayed may, in fact, turn into pleasure denied for some readers.

This is also a somewhat narrow, albeit interesting, examination of a particular slice of Russian life. Montiefore indicates in the acknowledgments that he wanted to write about how "an ordinary family" coped with these tumultuous periods. But Sashenka and her family aren't really an ordinary family. They were among the aristocratic class in Tsarist Russia. Until themselves coming afoul of Stalin, they were among the Communist elite in the U.S.S.R. Their tale is ordinary only in the sense that, like millions of other Russians, they suffered through the pangs of revolution and the cruelty of Stalinist Russia. Sashenka is much more a tale of Bolsheviks and Stalinists grinding up and eating their own than a look at the everyday lives of average citizens..

That said, although Montefiore's writing style is more expansive than in his nonfiction works, the ability to tell a story that made Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin bestsellers helps make the novel equally readable. Montefiore is successful in using a novel to take us inside significant historical periods in Russia and his background particularly helps illustrate the maze of Stalinist politics and tyranny. That cannot be said for the first foray into the world of fiction for many nonfiction writers.

(Originally posted at A Progressive on the Prairie.)
  PrairieProgressive | Jul 19, 2010 |
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From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. Lauded historian Montefiore (Young Stalin) ventures successfully into fiction with the epic story of Sashenka Zeitlin, a privileged Russian Jew caught up in the romance of the Russian revolution and then destroyed by the Stalinist secret police. The novel's first section, set in 1916, describes how, under the tutelage of her Bolshevik uncle, Sashenka becomes a naive, idealistic revolutionary charmed by her role as a courier for the underground and rejecting her own bourgeois background. Skip forward to 1939, when Sashenka and her party apparatchik husband are at the zenith of success until Sashenka's affair with a disgraced writer leads to arrests and accusations; in vivid scenes of psychological and physical torture, Sashenka is forced to choose between her family, her lover and her cause. But as this section ends, many questions remain, and it is up to historian Katinka Vinsky in 1994 to find the answers to what really happened to Sashenka and her family. 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. Readers with an interest in Russian history will particularly delight in Sashenka's story. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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In early twentieth-century Russia, Sashenka Zeitlin becomes caught up in the revolutionary fervor destined to bring down the czar, as she deals with arrest and imprisonment, the bloody battles that engulf the country under Stalin, and a forbidden love affair.… (more)

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