One Night In Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

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A select group of children at School 801, in Moscow, have formed a Fatal Romantics Club based on the writings of Pushkin and what they have learned about him from their beloved teacher, Benya Golden. But, Nikolasha Blagov and Rosa Shako are killed in a duel during their Game, one which re-enacts the duel from Pushkin’s Onegin, or the death of Pushkin himself. These 18 year old students, during the regime of Joseph Stalin, face almost intolerable questioning as the truth is searched out. While they think they are playing a romantic game, to put passion above science, the officials believe they are in a conspiracy to “overthrow the Soviet Government, kill members of the Politburo, and install a new ministry.” It is just the kind of paranoid overreaction one has heard about during the time of the Bolsheviks, and it is truly terrifying to think of being at the hand of such irrational inquisitors.

This novel, based on true incidents from 1945, shows us not only the Children’s Case as described above, but other complicated relationships which suffered at the hand of Comrade Stalin and his staff. Most significant to me was the love between Marshal Hercules Satinov and the lovely Doctor Dorov. While both were married, and stayed that way, their love was undeniable and all the more tender because it had no place to go.

…not a soul knew about it and…probably no one would ever know. He was leading a double life: no one was undisguised, plain for all to see and known to everyone who needed to know, full of conventional truths and conventional deception, identical to the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and by another which went on in secret. And by some strange, possibly fortuitous chain of circumstances, everything that was important, interesting and necessary for him, where he behaved sincerely and did not deceive himself and which was the very essence of his life – that was conducted in complete secrecy. ~Chekhov, “The Lady With The Little Dog”

It’s to enough to make me want to get my old Russian Lit books out, to reread Pushkin and Chekhov and Tolstoy, burying myself in the works which have always fascinated me for the ideas and the lives they portray.

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7 thoughts on “One Night In Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore”

    1. I can’t remember where I saw it, the newspaper perhaps, but I put it on hold at the library and was so glad I did. While reading this piece of historical fiction, I felt like I was living under Stalin’s regime. I felt the same tremblings I do when I think we could be under an Islam regime just that easily.

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  1. I have The Lady with the Little Dog and other stories on my bookshelf for several years now, still TBR. Your post just prompts me I need to move it up the list a bit. And then there’s still Proust to read. I haven’t progressed I admit due to life’s circumstances. And, when I do have some time, I’d chosen the ‘easy way out’ … watch the new Colin Firth movie instead. 😉

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    1. I’ve only remember The Cherry Orchard from Chekhov, but the use of The Lady With The Little Dog was a very effective tool in this novel. A page was ripped out in order to communicate between two lovers, as everything had to be so secretive. Still, I like hard copies of “notes” better than emails; they give me something tangible to hold on to.

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  2. I ought to read more Russian literature as it’s a bit of a gap in my reading experience. I finished a collection of Chekhov’s stories the other week so I’ve made a start this year.

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    1. Russian literature is one of my favorites, right up there with Japanese. (And now I’m working my way through the Strega prize winners from Italy, and I’m breathless!) I too enough courses in University to have a minor, but I almost wish I’d majoredin it. Anyway, to say you finished a collection of Chekhov is a wonderful accomplishment!

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