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As an avid reader, I am always looking for the next book I can sink my teeth into. I work as a charity fundraiser and had mentioned to one of my 80 year old volunteers that I enjoyed reading, and had thoroughly enjoyed Labyrinth and Sepulchre by Kate Mosse. He went off to his bookshelf and came back with a copy of Sashenka, by Simon Montefiore. He said he thought I'd like it and proceeded to lend it to me - very sweet of him!
Now, I can't say that this was the sort of book I would choose myself. The picture on the front is of a young lady wearing furs and the quote: 'Gripping. The perfect mix of sweeping history and page-turning storytelling' by Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth. The back of the book begins: 'Winter 1916. In St Petersburg, snow is falling on a country in turmoil'. Now, I am not a fan of historical books atall and honestly love nothing better than a good bit of chick lit for an escape from the real world! However, with the Kate Mosse connection, and given how I obtained the book, I felt as though I had no choice but to give it a go.
The story is divided into 3 time periods - 1916, 1939 and 1994, and is then split further into fairly short chapters within these. I tried to start the book with an open mind, however, I was always thinking that I wasn't really going to enjoy it. I was incredibly grateful for the short chapters as I found the first 200 pages or so very hard going.
The book tells the story of a young girl called Sashenka, growing up in Russia during a very difficult time. It follows her and her family through these circumstances and we see Sashenka choose her political side and get herself into all kinds of situations. I found Sashenka to be not an overly likable character, so really wasn't all that fussed with what happened to her!
I found the second section of the book (1939) to be a lot easier to read. This is where the book skips to us meeting Sashenka's husband and children. It is still a difficult time in Russia and the reader learns a lot about the political goings on of this particular time period.
The final section of the book is set much later, in 1994, and we meet a new character who is helping a lady to trace her family. The ending is better than I thought it would be and the author did a wonderful job of tying up the whole book.
Overall, I found the book quite tricky to read as I know nothing about Russian history and, to be honest, don't really have much interest in learning about it. However, the author had a great knowledge about Russia during these times and you can easily get so immersed in the book that you feel as though you have been transported there yourself. Aside from the amount of historical detail in this book, and after the first couple of hundred pages, I found that I really did care about Sashenka and wanted to know what happened to her. I read the last section of the book very quickly as I just couldn't put it down.
This book has everything from love and loss to tragedy and hope, I found it quite shocking in places, but I guess this highlights my ignorance of Russian history. It was well written and after a while, I felt like I really could relate to many of the characters. However, it could get confusing as people tended to have the name they were known by, their actual full name and then a Russian party name eg. Comrade Snowfox. It was a bit tricky to remember who was called what, although there was a section in the back of the book which listed all of the characters - very useful!
The book is quite long at just over 600 pages, but after reading it, I'm not sure it could really be made any shorter whilst keeping the same level of detail. The back of the book suggests that it retails at £6.99, which is pretty standard for a paperback. I've just had a look on Amazon and can see that it is currently available for £5.59 for the paperback, or £5.22 for the Kindle edition. I would say that this is good value as you are certainly getting your money's worth for the number of pages!
I would recommend this book, particularly to anyone who has an interest in this time period. But even if you don't, give it a go and may turn out to be pleasantly surprised, as I was.