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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 deadBut 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 MoscowIs 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

10 thoughts on “One Night in Winter

  1. says:

    Russia 1945 Stalin and his regime is firmly entrenched What starts out as a student's game uickly turns into much two deaths and a possible conspiracy to overthrow Stalin and many students the youngest aged six are uickly imprisoned What makes this case so special to the investigating officers is that these are all children of the elite the top of Stalin's PolitburoThis is a very atmospheric novel the reader becomes very familiar with the tension and suspicion that even the elite and their families had to live with daily How Stalin loved to play games using children to get at their parents making sure no one ever felt safe It is a story of sacrifice of a beloved teacher of Pushkin who confesses to something he did not do so that his students would be saved A story of love of a young Russian girl with an American diplomat and her eventual imprisonment in the Gulag It is a time when no one was free to think or do what they wantedThe beginning included a cast of characters and there are many in this book but I soon had no trouble keeping track of most of them Also includes an afterward stating that much of this was based on a true story and what was changed for the sake of the story I found in to be a wonderful story and one I thoroughly enjoyed Another new author for me but one of which I plan to read much ARC from publisher

  2. says:

    One Night in Winter Simon Sebag Montefiore1945 Moscow RussiaJubilance raged over the war ravaged city Hitler was defeated New beginnings lay ahead for a nation with promises of greatness by Stalin The hope for normalcy raised slowly from the ashes The young Andrei Kurbsky saw “crumbling buildings their façades peppered with shrapnel windows shattered roads pockmarked with bomb craters Everything – the walls the houses the cars – everything except the scarlet banners was drab beige peeling khaki grey But faces of the passersby were rosy as if victory and sunlight almost made up for the lack of food and the streets were crowded with pretty girls in skimpy dresses soldiers sailors and officers in white summer uniforms Studebaker trucks Willys jeeps and the Buicks of officials rumbled by – but there were also carriages pulled by horses carts heaped with hay or bedding or turnips right in the middle of this spired city with its gold domes Sometimes when he closed his eyes in the heat and the world went a soft orange Andrei heard laughter and singing and he was sure he could hear the city itself healing in the sunshine”`Life was starting over for everyone The top officials in the Communist party were compensated with lavish lifestyle in the high ceilinged apartments in the Granvosky building otherwise known as the Fifth House of the Soviets with dazzling corridors of capacious paruet floors and crystal chandeliers Each official owned than one chauffeur driven car open topped Mercedes and Packards Dodge Cadillacs limousines and Rolls Royces It was also the home of Serafima RomashkinaA new life was also starting for Andrei and his mother who just returned from exile in Stalinabad “The Paris of Central Asia” also known as “The Athens of Turkestan” Everybody knew what that meant “It was his tainted biography all over again”He remembered “that no one in the Soviet Union respected personal space Everyone existed in a state of neurotic anxiety but his mother always told him The key to survival is to be calm and save yourself Never ask anyone what they did before and what they’re doing next Never speak your mind And make friends wherever you can”He wanted badly to make friends in School 801 the finishing school for the next leaders of the Kremlin; the place where the Princes of the Communist regime sent their children to be trained as the young Barons of the Kremlin He did not belong there but needed to fit in He wanted to join the literary movement 'the Fatal Romantic’s Club' founded December 1944 by Nikolasha Blagov with the mission statement reading 1 We suffocate in a phillistine world of science and planning ruled by the cold machine of history2 We live for love and romance3 If we cannot live with love we choose death This is why we conduct our secret rites; this is why we play the GameIt was to be called ‘bourgeois sentimentalism’ a 'bourgeois heresy' by the Communists and regarded as un Bolshevik Young poor optimistic ambitious inexperienced Andrei would meet Serafima24 June 1945 It was the day of Stalin's review of The Victory ParadeThe rain has stopped; “the air is packed with suffocating pollen and Serafima loses sight of her friends as she is buffeted by the carousing crowds The smell of vodka and blossom the thunderous boom and the drifting smoke of a cannonade a hundred impromptu street choirs singing wartime romances amidst the salvoes of that fifty gun salute surround and confuse her Then two staccato gunshots very close Serafima knows something’s happened to her friends even before the sounds has finished ricocheting off the Kremlin walls” “ These shots will blast their lives and uncover secrets that would never otherwise have been found – hers Serafima's most of all ” After all Stalin believed that killing was the uickest most efficient way to accelerate the progress of history 'We must never lose our sense of humour' said Josef Vissarionovich aka StalinSo many lives so many losses; so much heartbreak so much optimism The background to the life in Moscow was so vividly illustrated that the reader might walk those streets and recognize all the people and places described in the tale without ever being there before The death of the two children would unleash a series of events which were like dominoes tumbling from different directions falling everywhereThe collective mistrust back stabbing fear betrayal secrets and self serving objectives of the participants will be exposed until only time would bring acceptance and reconciliation with lives destroyed or revived But many years filled with endless minutes would be needed to finally bring closure And closure was only made possible by love and loyalty which never died 'The party never makes mistakes Better to kill a hundred innocents than miss one Enemy'In this tale not everything is lost although nobody would walk out unscathed I am so between the devil and the deep blue sea on this one It is a magnificent book to start off with well written extremely detailed beautiful prose spell binding with no unfinished characters However my final impression was that too much historical facts were included in the narrative necessitating the creation of too many protagonists The story is about a group of children and their families every member their teachers and what happened to them during the reign of Stalin There were many love stories too many to be told More emphasis needed to have been laid on the millions of people who collectively died under Stalin's reign of which the majority were non Jewish instead of only the Jewish victimsI am going to settle for four stars If there were less protagonists focus on less events it would have deserved five brilliant flying stars In fact I might change my mind again

  3. says:

    It was hard to put down I was captivated by this extraordinary story within which some of the characters were actual historical figures Looking over one's shoulder all the time for fear of being incarcerated tortured sent to the Gulags or killed for the slightest move in the wrong direction in the eyes of some must have been a terrifying ordealI look forward to reading of this author's work

  4. says:

    Bettie's Books

  5. says:

    Almost but not uiteThe historian leaned back in his chair and thought I make a decent living from writing popular non fiction but I don't make nearly as many zloties as that Robert Harris I think I'll try for a bit of what he's gettingAnd he nearly but not uite makes it What Sebag Montefiore has produced here is a strangely uneven work at times gripping packed with presumably accurate period detail but which is also rather disjointed and unsatisfying Looked at through one lens there is some skilful story telling with multiple narratives all being tied together nicely at the end From another perspective the knots are too neat and small the book lacks a sense of a crescendo it burns out its energy well before the end and the resolution is almost a non seuiteur from the rest of the book The effort went into the journey rather than the destination The author writes on an ambitious canvas with a large cast of characters both fictional and real but then the reader never really gets to know any of them Above all despite the attempts to bring everything together at the end this feels like at least three possibly four wildly different booksAct 1 Harry Potter and the Goths of StalinThe first section has many elements familiar to anyone who has read any form of school story The new boy Andrei has to fit in with his seemingly glamorous classmates In doing so he is confronted by the stern but ultimately kindly headmaster the inspirational teacher the malevolent Snape like character and the arrogant bully As this is set in Moscow at the time of the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany the unsympathetic teacher is a bolshevik fanatic the charismatic pedagogue is a victim of the Terror and the bully is Stalin's son In this first section I rather got the impression that the writer of fiction hadn't uite escaped his original profession as 17 year olds occasionally think like narrating historians than teenage boysThe teenage pupils whom Andrei is keen to befriend are pale and interesting young men and women who meet in graveyards to reenact the life and works of Pushkin They also happen to be the offspring of the Soviet leadership Things take a darker turn when a fake duel goes wrong on the day of the Russian WW II victory celebration and two of the school children lie deadAct 2 Suffer the little childrenThe second section was for me the most problematic Following the tragic events which bring the first act to a close the secret police get involved in the investigation The two adjectives which could lazily be used here would be Orwellian and Kafkaesue as the children are sucked into Stalin's cruel bureaucracy My difficulty is that the two earlier writers produced brilliantly allegorical political works which used fiction as a means of denouncing state terror and warning of the conseuences of totalitarianism This is not a political work it is a work of popular entertainment and yet we are explicitly presented with the psychological torture and suffering of six and ten year old children I found that gratuitously upsettingAct 3 Mills and BoonAfter the darkness of the second act there is a drastic change of tone and we are suddenly presented with heaving breasts aching loins panting passion and not one but two prime candidates for the bad sex awardsActs 4 5 Fizzling outThe fourth section is where Sebag montefiore brings everything to a conclusion but his story deflates rather than climaxing In the notes at the end of the book he gives an account of the real events on which he bases his novel I got the impression that he had decided that these were the stories that he was going to tell but his interest was in the world he was describing than in the fate of his characters He brings his tale to an end somewhat unenthusiastically and left this reader at least feeling rather unengaged especially as he uickly skates over huge events in his characters' lives by jumping 8 and 30 years into the futureSo in summary this is a reasonable book aside from the unnecessary cruelty I just found myself wondering what it is trying to achieve Given the author's background it is based on a great deal of scholarly research but it is also aimed suarely at the bestseller market Is it trying to provide a warning from history or is it just a slightly nasty rather exploitative workFinally one might surmise that the author has fallen into the biographer's trap There is clearly a hatred of Stalin's inhumanities but there is definitely a sense of admiration for the old tyrant in there too

  6. says:

    A bit of internet research shows up that Joseph Stalin dictator leader of the Soviet Union from mind 1920s till his death in 1953 was responsible during this time for the deaths of 20 million Soviet people his own people Most died from starvation either due to state induced famine or in the infamous Gulags By the way this is in addition to what may be another 20 million who died as a direct result of WWII His purges were so extensive and ruthless that come the German invasion of Russia in 1941 it is claimed that he did not have enough man power to prevent the invasion Such was Stalin's paranoia and insecurity during all the years of his terror filled reign that literally no one was safe Including children Even children of his own advisers and high ranking defence personnelThis novel is based on the episode that became known as the Children's Case of 1943 when two children of high ranking Soviet officials died during a shooting Amongst their papers plans for a joke government were found which resulted in the friends of the two dead teenagers being imprisoned interrogated forced to sign a confession and then sent to central Asia for six months The author spoke to survivors of the case as part of his research This case forms the backbone to the novel using both real people for example Stalin and some of his generals and fictionalising the children and their families The novel is as much about Soviet Russia during this time as it is about the private lives of families and how betrayal at this most private of levels was actively encouragedStalin didn't believe in love of any kind except to himself and the glory of Russia The one fly in this ointment was the poet and writer Alexander Pushkin whose works were reluctantly permitted as he simply couldn't get this man out of Russian mindset In this novel the author uses Pushkin as the base around which the teenagers build their Fatal Romantics' Club which Stalin felt so threatened by The web of fear that was caused by the shooting of the two teenagers is huge and complicated with the reader fearing for the lives of most of the characters in the novel This includes the children themselves one as young as six the parents some of whom have to continue looking Stalin in the eye knowing that Stalin hs personally directed the arrest and interrogation of their childrenThe school teachers at the prestigious state school the children attend are also under threat surveillance and interrogationAt the same time as all this is going on one of the school girls is having an affair with someone she shouldn't be This too is based on a true story of the period whereby a translator at the British Embassy became engaged to a Russian girl When she attempted to legitimately leave Russia and join him she was poisoned brought back to Moscow and tried for treason The fictionalised version is slightly different but no less terrifying than the originalThe tension and fear throughout this story is palpable from the opening sentence Just moments after the shots as Serafima looks at the bodies of her school friends a feathery whiteness is already frosting their blasted flesh This very highly regarded author has written two non fiction books about Stalin and another about Catherine the Great as well as one other fiction book set during the time of Stalin's rule He knows this period in history intimately his knowledge and research shining through We get a real taste for what daily life was like in communal living situations the need for husbands and wives to have private whispered conversations in the bathroom with the taps running the ueues for food the constant being on guard the sudden disappearances of neighbours and then years later the random appearance of long lost friends and loved ones We simply can't comprehend living under such fear and intimidation And yet it is important that we know about what has gone on in our recent pastThis is a compelling and frightening read Stalin's use of children making you realise what an absolute monster this man was and yet the power of love still managing to shine on through

  7. says:

    I almost never read historical fiction I much prefer my history books to be non fictional and I do worry that my poor befuddled mind might end up conflating fact and fiction However Simon Sebag Montefiore is one of my favourite historians and I found myself being sucked in to reading this his most recent historical novel What particularly intrigued me was a recent newspaper piece by Montefiore which though clearly a PR piece for this book set out the original real historical background to the story It detailed how two children of elite Soviet figures had ended up shooting each other and sparking a spiral of typically Stalinist paranoid investigation and uasi purge – but this time the terror fell first on a set of school children Without giving away too much of the plot of this book almost every character finds themselves falling into very dark times and no one gets a perfectly happy ending Stalin comes across as by far the most convincing and rounded character as you would expect for a writer who has produced two of the best histories of the man However the completely invented politburo member Hercules Satinov does transform uickly from a stock character into a very sympathetic figure who by the end is a much interesting character than the intended heroine Serafima Indeed I became much worried about the fate of Satinov’s 6 year old daughter Mariko than I did about SerafimaIn summary not only did it manage to sneak past my doubts about historical fiction it has made me want to go back and read properly Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Court of the Red Tsar again to remind myself of the facts of the original story this was based on Normally I would not do so but on this case I thoroughly recommend anyone to read both the factual and the fictional accounts of this tale

  8. says:

    I know that I have a small obsession with trying to understand life under communism and particularly life in Russia under Stalin but I thought this book was extremely well done Montefiore does and excellent job of blending historical figures and activities ie interrogation of children with excellent fictional characters He also blends in the power of love uite an accomplishment Most of the books that I rate 5 stars are serious literature and this one is not Nonetheless I thought it was excellent

  9. says:

    25 stars

  10. says:

    Two teenagers have been shot and killed in an incident following Moscow's Victory Parade on June 24 1945 Both students are children of high ranking officials and attended the elite School 801 in Moscow the same school Stalin's children attended An investigation into the incident seems at first a wild goose chase but an incredible amount of pressure is placed on the dead children's siblings and friends and every private thought and casual comment becomes worthy of suspicion and scrutiny including those that the children have overheard their parents whispering to each otherThis novel offers a glimpse of what life was like in the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin The set up of the novel is good there are several mysteries that are alluded to that hold the reader's attention and the stories that unfold within it are moving Unfortunately there's a lag in pacing that may cause some readers to lose interest There's also a minimum of character development in the first half of the book that may make it difficult to sympathize with the charactersWhile the theme of trust no one is repeated over and over at first the sentiment seems unnecessarily cautious paranoid even until the truth of the political climate is revealed Once you understand what the characters have lived through and been forced to deal with the story takes on new meaning These aren't just fictional characters these stories are based on incidents that really happened and describe how the Soviet people were terrorized for decadesI admit I had a difficult time staying focused on this story the lag in pacing that I mentioned earlier almost caused me to abandon this novel but I'm really glad I kept reading The author redeems his characters in the second half of the book when he reveals their true depth This was not the fast paced suspenseful novel that I anticipated it to be but it was very well done and worthy of readingThank you to Harper Collins publishers and the Vine program for an advance reader's copy of this book given in exchange for an honest review