I didn't know quite how to approach this novel. I have read both of Montefiore's studies of Stalin, young and old. They are both extremely disturbing books - but full of telling historical incident, twisted plotting which just couldn't be made up, and an eye for the intimate detail.
Montefiore, the historical fiction writer, employs those strengths in creating an exceptionally powerful saga. I really felt drawn into the story and began to get quite emotionally involved about a third of the way through the book. The writing is vivid, well paced and evocative. (There are also knowing echoes of Tolstoy and Pasternak in there.)
But, above all, I was totally, unashamedly gripped by the 'what is going to happen next?' syndrome. The characters became people I really cared about - and the ending..? It is everything the reviewers said. A real hammer blow to the heart.
'Sashenka' is an excellent 'literary historical novel'. It is passionate, complex, incisive, salutary and utterly bloody upsetting. One of those classic books that people will want to read again - I certainly will - when I recover from it - and enthuse others to read.