Pulling off the passionate love story embedded in a truly epic narrative is a difficult thing to do. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind
remains the blueprint for the genre, while Tolstoy's War and Peace
carries off the literary honours with the Pierre/Natasha/André ménage, itself a blueprint for Mitchell's Brett/Scarlett/Ashley musical chairs. Paullina Simons' ambitious The Bronze Horseman
weighs in at nearly 700 pages, and it's quickly apparent that the Russian-born author has the measure of this kind of epic romantic saga. The power of her descriptive writing, the vividness of the historical detail and, most of all, the strength of her central characters mark out her novel as a considerable achievement.
Simons was born in Leningrad and emigrated to the US in the 1970s. She sets her love story in the war-torn Leningrad of 1941. Utilising as her setting this phantasmagoric city of decaying splendour, Simons expertly involves the reader in the fate of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha, living a penurious existence with their brother and parents. Their lives are ineluctably changed when Hitler invades Russia in June 1941. On that day, Tatiana meets a confident and attractive young officer, Alexander. As the Russian winter wreaks its havoc and the bombs fall, Alexander and Tatiana struggle with their growing love in the face of death and destruction. Simons' most impressive coup here is to ensure that the troubled love affair at the centre of her narrative is not engulfed by the terrifying conflagration that surrounds her characters. Tatiana in particular is drawn with a truly felicitous grasp of character: idiosyncratic, strong-willed and charismatic, she possesses all the requisite qualities to support a tale such as this.
However, the author isn't content to merely soothe and stir the reader: by using Hitler's war machine on the one hand and the dehumanising Soviet system on the other, she is able to make some powerful statements about the durability of the human spirit, but never at the expense of descriptive passages refulgent with power and beauty:
The train station crumbled like wet paper. Tatiana crawled from the beams and the fire, but there was nowhere for her to go. Through the smoke she could feel bodies around her. Hot and faint, she felt for them with her hands. The gunfire came from right outside the door, but when the lattice beam fell from the ceiling, all sounds faded away, all faded away and there was no more fear. Only regret was left. Regret for Alexander.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Praise for Paullina Simons
‘Pick up this book and prepare to have your emotions wrung so completely you’ll be sobbing your heart out one minute and laughing through your tears the next… Read it and weep – literally’ Company
Tatiana and Alexander
'This has everything a romance glutton could wish for: a bold, talented and dashing hero, a heart-stopping love affair … It also has – thank goodness – a welcome sense of humour and discernible characters rather than ciphers.'
Victoria Moore, Daily Mail
The Bronze Horseman
--This text refers to the
‘Pulling off the passionate love story embedded in a truly epic narrative is a difficult thing to do. Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind remains the blueprint for the genre, while Tolstoy's War and Peace carries off the literary honours … it's quickly apparent that the Russian-born author Paullina Simons has the measure of this kind of epic romantic saga … She is able to make some powerful statements about the durability of the human spirit, but never at the expense of descriptive passages refulgent with power and beauty’ Barry Forshaw, amazon