Sashenka review

sashenkaSimon Montefiore, the author who gave us Young Stalin, now gives us a fictional female revolutionary, Sashenka.  Sashenka is perfectly positioned in history – the teenage daughter of a Jewish oil baron in Petrograd, she joins the Bolshevik party prior to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II.  After the October Revolution she takes dictation from Lenin, marries a party stalwart, and hosts a May Day party at their dacha attended by Stalin and Beria.  Sashenka leads an exemplary proletarian life, editing a magazine for Soviet housewives.  She is described by many of the male characters as being an unforgettable beauty, and that is her undoing.  Sashenka is placed upon a pedestal by the men around her (including the author), and the only way off is a tragic fall.  The only means of survival in Stalin’s Soviet Union was to draw as little attention as possible; those individuals closest to Stalin received the most intense scrutiny, and thus faced the greatest danger.  Sashenka was too memorable, too beautiful to survive in such a cruel society.  Her children did survive, hidden from the NKVD by someone inside the vast, powerful organization, and because of them a young historian is enlisted to penetrate the thicket of archives in the 1990s to uncover Sashenka’s ultimate fate.

Events transpire too quickly in this book.  Sashenka wants to join the party, so she does.  She wants the street cred of being arrested, and she is.  Her well-connected and wealthy parents want her released as soon as possible, and she is.  Men want women, and they get them.  A young historian is hired to find Sashenka’s children, and she does.  There is no dramatic build up in the events, so Montefiore resorts to melodramatic language, especially in dialogue and at the ends of chapters.  Montefiore’s extensive research and his love for research are evident, as is his love for his heroine.  Even in her callous demise Montefiore preserves her beauty, like a statue on a pedestal.  As a result of this adoration Sashenka comes across like a statue, an artistic creation, a representation of a woman but not a real person.

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