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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Book review #5 - The Bronze Horseman


Title: The Bronze Horseman
Author: Paullina Simons

Publisher: Harper Collins, 2000
e-book - 2009

ISBN: 978-0061031120
Print lenght: 912 pages






Synopsis

Leningrad 1941: the white nights of summer illuminate a city of fallen grandeur whose palaces and avenues speak of a different age, when Leningrad was known as St Petersburg. Two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha, share the same bed, living in one room with their brother and parents. The routine of their hard impoverished life is shattered on 22 June 1941 when Hitler invades Russia. For the Metanov family, for Leningrad and particularly for Tatiana, life will never be the same again. On that fateful day, Tatiana meets a brash young man named Alexander. The family suffers as Hitler's army advances on Leningrad, and the Russian winter closes in. With bombs falling and the city under siege, Tatiana and Alexander are drawn inexorably to each other, but theirs is a love that could tear Tatiana's family apart, and at its heart lies a secret that could mean death to anyone who hears it.
Confronted on the one hand by Hitler's vast war machine, and on the other by a Soviet system determined to crush the human spirit, Tatiana and Alexander are pitted against the very tide of history, at a turning point in the century that made the modern world. 


My thoughts

Right, first off, I would like to say that this book is incredible!!! With its 912pages, it's very long, but as I read it on my Kindle, I wasn't put off by the brick that it might be in paperback!
I didn't pay too much attention to the real chaptering so for me, the book is divided into 3 parts.

* In the first part, we are entered in the world of communism in pre-war Russia with Stalin at its head. Soviets are proud to be communists and find it normal for a 3-generations family of 7 to live in a 1 bedroom flat. They share their kitchen/bathroom and a hallway is as much a room as an actual bedroom!
The author introduces us to the Metanov family, comprising of the grandparents, the parents, the older sister Dasha and the sister-brother 16-yo twins Pasha and Tatiana. The dynamic of this family is quickly set as Tatiana being the youngest and bullied one.
One morning, war is declared, Hitler is invading Russia. At first, no one truly believes it, after all the Red Soviet Army is the strongest. But just in case, Pasha, the only boy, is sent to camp to avoid being sucked in the army and while the family says their goodbyes to him at the station, Tatiana is sent to buy all the food she can get with all their savings. A task that she reluctantly acted upon a few hours later, at which point she realised she should have gone much earlier as queues to shops were never ending and shops were quickly emptying themselves of any good!
On her quest to food and goods, she met this very handsome soldier who followed her without a word. In the end, they did talk to each other and he helped her getting food from the army barracks. He helped her getting it all to her flat where her parents were waiting for her, the whole day having passed! 
The reader is then made to believe that the beautiful romance starts there where actually it's a drama that unfolds when it appeared that this handsome soldier was the man that her older sister was seeing sometimes at parties and fell in love with!!!
We are then transported into Tatiana's world of unconditional love and respect for her bullying sister when she decided to ignore her feelings for this Red Army soldier Alexander.
But it was without success as Alexander couldn't help but come to see her everyday after work!
From then on, this first part of the book explains two things: - How 2 people who love each other try to hid their feelings - How the war affected their lives.
To be honest I was starting to be a bit bored of the 1st thing, but reading about all those people's demise was a clear eye opener!  How Hitler troops surrounded Leningrad blocking all access to food, ammunitions, petrol, electricity, everything, letting the people starve to death - in the Russian winter!!!
Descriptions of how the rations were distributed, how much bread, what king of fake bread they were eating, the diseases people got, the deaths due to famine, how people would drop dead in the street but trucks loading dead people were coming to clear the streets only once in a while and only when petrol was found are severe realities that I wasn't aware of!!! And out of horror movies, how people were cutting dead people meat to survive!!

I don't want to say too much on how this family survived or died so I'll just skip to the next part

* The second part of the book is Tatiana's life outside Leningrad, having managed to get out of there through German bombs via the frozen lake (the only free route available for Soviets to get out of Leningrad, that Germans would happily and frequently bomb!).
In Lazarevo, we find her, being bullied again by a group of older women for whom she cooks, cleans, etc as she was used to do for her own family in Leningrad.
By then, we know that Tatiana, although of a tiny build, has so much courage and determination, that her will to survive is much stronger that her frail body holds through it all!!
So, whereas the first part is all about No-Alexander-I-can't-love-you-because-of-my-sister, the second part should kind of be censored as we are reading Tatiana first sexual experiences and never ending sexual thirst of Alexander for her.
There again, I was bored reading about it all and it could have been much shorter. The stories and their days being so much similar, lots of repetitions were occuring!
Alexander stayed in Lazarevo for 6 weeks before going back to the front.

* In the third part, we are shown the war at the front, how the Red Army lost thousands of men trying to break the year-old German blockade - Population in Leningrad having gone from 3 million to half a million!!!
So first part is all about getting out of Leningrad, second part was in a safe city, the third part is all about Tatiana, not wanting to be without Alexander and going back to Leningrad, again, across German bombing! 
A good thing it was though as she started being a Red Cross nurse and learning about that job. She was sent to the front with Dr Sayers, a Red Cross American doctor. The day Alexander and his troops tried to break the blockade, incidents happened during which he was seriously hit and almost died. He actually should have died if it hadn't been for Tatiana's determination to save him!

[Now, there is all the Alexander background story that I deliberately put aside but is now important, and that is the fact that Alexander is actually of American origin. His parents decided to live the communist life and moved to Russia in 1930, "decitizenising" themselves from America. When things went wrong for them, parents got shot and he himself fleed free from execution. He stole a Russian boy identity and had been living as a Russian ever since. Only, Alexander has a friend Dimitri, who knows the truth and is playing with it to make Alexander do all he wants. Dimitri's wish is to go to America, free of communism and war.]

When Alexander got wounded and in hospital with the American doctor and his Red Cross nurse Tatiana, a plan was devised for them to flee the country and go to America.

And that's all I will be saying on this chapter otherwise it would be a big spoiler for the end.

So, as a conclusion, an amazing epic read, with yes some boring repetitive situations, but some phenomemal history facts.

I was sad to finish it, having spent my all Holiday season with it!!!! But that was before I realised it was the first book of a trilogy! Which I am SO HAPPY ABOUT!!

Also, a movie is being made so we'll all definitely hear about it!!!

My ratings

*****

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