Review: 'One Night in Winter' by Simon Sebag Montefiore (2014)
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.
Thanks to the lovely Najma at Random House I received the opportunity to read and review Simon Sebag Montefiore’s latest release, ‘One Night in Winter.’ The book definitely does not fit into the genre chick lit, but occasionally it’s good to step away from what you know and try new genres! Besides, Simon Sebag Montefiore’s non-fiction works have been incredibly well-received and as an author he has received numerous awards over the past few years. Enough reasons to get me curious and excited about picking up ‘One Night in Winter’!
It’s 1945, the Second World War has ended, and Andrei Kurbsky and his mother have returned from their exile in Stalinabad, ready to build up a new life in Moscow. Andrei has earned himself a spot at School 801, the top school of Russia where the children of present and future leaders go. It doesn’t take long before Andrei starts making friends. He develops a crush on the most popular girl in school named Serafima, and is asked to join the Fatal Romantics Club, a group of students who like to re-enact plays by famous Russian author Eugene Onegin. However, when two of the students who were part of this club are found dead, the lives of both Andrei and Serafima are turned upside down. The investigation into the murders shows that whatever you say or do might be used against you, your family, and your friends, and no one can be trusted...
‘One Night in Winter’ is based on actual events, namely the Children’s Case of 1943 when two children of high-ranked Russian officials died during a shooting. This makes the book a fascinating mix of both non-fictional and fictional elements, and since the author clearly knows a tremendous amount about Russian history he manages to convey these images of the past onto paper in an amazingly captivating way. The story focuses on a range of characters from different backgrounds and different ages, both teenagers and their parents, each of them with their own story to tell. I personally especially enjoyed Serafima’s tale, but the entire mix of storylines was really fascinating and made me want to keep on reading.
I didn’t know much about 1945 Russia, but this didn’t stop me from understanding and enjoying the story. Enough background information is given and the central aspects in the novel: love, friendship, literature, ideals; those are all universal and readers will be able to relate to them. ‘One Night in Winter’ is a captivating, intense and compelling read and an intriguing combination of historical fiction, thriller, and romance. A book that managed to surprise me, and one I will remember for quite some time to come!