7.22.2009

Simon Montefiore's Sashenka

When I was in 6th grade, I was assigned a beast of a social studies project. My teacher was crazy about details and creative elements, so the thing had to be beautiful and thorough. I was told to investigate whether or not Anastasia Romanov had died in 1917 like the Bolsheviks said or, as Anna Anderson would later contend, she had actually made it out alive. (At this time, they had not yet done the DNA testing proving that Anna Anderson was an impostor, so the subject was tinged with mystery.) Until this point, I had had no exposure to Russian history, but being a sucker (still am) for high intrigue, ornate architecture, and costuming, I was immediately hooked. What began then, has evolved into a life-long interest in Russian history and literature.

A few weeks ago, I came across a thick, door-stop of a novel in the library by Simon Montefiore, a Russian historian. The eponymously named Sashenka follows the life, love, and enigmatic disappearance of Sashenka, a head-strong and wealthy young woman who comes to age during Russia’s transition from Tzarist monolith to Communist titan. Sashenka grows up in a household of maids, fine clothes, but little attention from her self-centered parents. Unhappy and neglected, she turns to the fascinating and subversive teachings of her uncle, a Bolshevik revolutionary, who has ideas about how Sashenka can help the Red cause. She is soon deeply absorbed in the Revolution and eventually rises to the top of the Communist ranks. She is a premier example of Bolshevik womanhood, exemplifying the dutiful mother, devoted wife, and industrious Comrade. She marries another devotee to the cause and together they achieve the heights of popularity within the Party; Stalin even joins their dinner parties. One evening, however, she meets a young man, an artist vibrant with life, and someone unlike any she has ever known. What evolves from this first meeting will impact not only her life, but the lives of her family for generations to come.


Montefiore suffuses this absorbing plot with details from history that bring the entire landscape of danger, love, and philosophical obsession to life. The multi-generational saga allows us not only to follow Sashenka and her family, but to observe the evolution of Russian history from an intimate perspective.


This is a tour de force of a novel, one I that will read again and again.
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6 comments:

Holly said...

This one looks terrific. I love Russian History.

estelle said...

Hi there! Came across your blog through the 'School Librarians' blog list. I have a copy of Young Stalin by Montefiore waiting to be read. Alas, its time probably won't come for a while. Sashenka sounds good though. It's amazing to think of how much historical detail the author would be able to put into the novel...makes it more three-dimensional, or even four-dimensional.

Sarah said...

I haven't had a chance to read any of Montefiore's history books, but I heard "Young Stalin" and "The Court of the Red Czar" are great. Estelle, would love to hear your thoughts on "Young Stalin" when you get to it.

PrincessLilou said...

Hi,
I just bought the book yesterday and now I can't wait to finish work so I can start reading it. I'm so anxious.:D I'll let you know how it all went.

PrincessLilou said...

I've finished reading the book :(
I've cried....like never before...with my head in the pillow so that neighbours won't hear me at midnight. The things that Sashenka has went though for her children...it's hard to imagine. She protected everyone she loved, even Benya.
I'm at work now, with a huge headache for crying all night.:P

Picard said...

Hi, also just finished the book. I wasn't in tears ... but not that far away :( Can someone please rewrite the last 20 pages??