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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and suspect in Stalin's Russia
By Simon Sebag Montefiore the eminent Stalin's biographer (Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin), an historical novel set in 1945 Russia. It's a novel about love, family ties, adultery, youth, friendship, fear, hope, deception, psychological violence, secrecy, literature, privilege, Bolshevik faith and its implacable rules.
The author's passionate and...
Published 9 months ago by Lupo

versus
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear, stick to history, Simon.
This could have been half the length, what was the editor thinking of? Slackly written, - would Russians really have compared falling spring petals to spaceships in 1945? Too many characters, new ones introduced willy nilly, old ones not properly developed so that this reader struggled to keep interested in the interruped narrative.
Published 2 months ago by Lamorna G.


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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and suspect in Stalin's Russia, 8 Oct 2013
By 
Lupo (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
By Simon Sebag Montefiore the eminent Stalin's biographer (Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar and Young Stalin), an historical novel set in 1945 Russia. It's a novel about love, family ties, adultery, youth, friendship, fear, hope, deception, psychological violence, secrecy, literature, privilege, Bolshevik faith and its implacable rules.
The author's passionate and profound knowledge of Russian history and his vivid and sophisticated imagination along with his natural talent as a writer generated an unforgettable novel.

The Soviet Union is celebrating the victory on the Nazis. An elite school. A group of teenagers, scions of Bolshevik grandees, forms the Fatal Romantic Club based on Pushkin poetry. A duel is enacted and two of them are mysteriously killed. Their friends are arrested on suspicion of being plotting against the government. On a world where also the members of the establishment live a precarious existence under constant pressure, Stalinist regime puts its unforgiving hand.

The children are forced to testify against their parents, and friends are put one against another. Every word can be used against them now and in the future. Inside and outside the prison a tangible fear, anxiety, and moments of intense longing and love permeate the lives of the characters. Interrogations, deception, suspicion, blackmail, punishment, made up conspiracies, fake truths, unveiled secrets, and hope. They all know what they might face and they all try to survive according to their own nature. Love, remorse, betrayal.

The plot is organized by narrative threads that merge at crucial times designing unexpected twist and turn. The reader is taken through breathless suspensions to the climax and then to the resolution or, instead, to a sudden change of scene. The author masterly drops clues of future events leaving the reader to quick conjectures along with an undeniable emotional participation. The story is crossed by a few leit motives: from the highest picks of culture with Pushkin's poetry to the blindest methods of the Bolshevik system, to love (a lot of romantic love).
Flashbacks, foreshadowings, and intersected brief episodes laid out as patches, create movement, a feeling of anticipation, an intriguing temporary sense of displacement. But the story flows effortlessly and the reader never looses his/her thread.

The sentences are short. The dialogues have rhythm. The style is synthetic, always effective, exquisite in the sequences and in the selection of the words.

The plot is inspired by some real stories. Literary characters and historical ones mingle seamlessly. SSM's familiarity with Stalin and the members and the life of the Politburo makes him confortable in bringing them alive. Stalin, tired, sarcastic, provocative, sadistic, always alert and ready to strike, ferocious also with his closet court. Beria, his top manager, fat, angry, competitive, morbid in his sexual tastes. Or the fictional characters such as Satinov, reticent, introverted, not in touch with his own feelings, struck by an unfamiliar passion. The movie star Zeitlin, beautiful, genuinely selfish, at time clumsy, prima donna in every situation. Or minor characters such Dr Rimm, viciously weak, consumed by the desire of belonging to the higher spheres. Or the 14 year old girl who sleeps with Beria whose face is not described, we are introduced to her only by her flat belly slightly wrinkled by Beria's weight.

The setting is evocative and accurate. The streets of Moscow after the victory on the Nazi appear in front of the reader's eyes. The Communist school. The interrogation rooms, the smell of sweat, urine and detergent, the grinding of the locks, everything is devised to break the prisoners. The precious description of the shabby dwellings of the lower classes that have a hole as a lavatory (and relative smells) shared by many families. And the blatant contrast with the large homes of the Bolshevik leaders inhabited by European furniture, paintings, maids and nannies.

It's simple. Simon Sebag Montefiore writes so well that reading his novel is, in the end, pure pleasure.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear, stick to history, Simon., 3 May 2014
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This could have been half the length, what was the editor thinking of? Slackly written, - would Russians really have compared falling spring petals to spaceships in 1945? Too many characters, new ones introduced willy nilly, old ones not properly developed so that this reader struggled to keep interested in the interruped narrative.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A romance hiding behind a political drama, 7 Jun 2014
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This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
This proved to be a very disappointing novel. I had expected much better storytelling and writing from a renowned historian. I had hoped it would prove to be a challenging read - and it was not. I find it hard to understand the fine comments gleaned from reviewers and wonder if they had actually read this romance or just assumed that because it was by Simon Sebag Montefiore, it must be good.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sebag Montefiore using his historical expertise to good effect, 11 Mar 2014
By 
EleanorB - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
I longed to love this book and I did indeed enjoy it very much - Montefiore has a thorough, indeed unrivalled, knowledge of Stalin's Russia and the insanities of Bolshevism. In this instance, he takes a known fact about the arrest of some of the children of the ruling elite in 1945 and builds a fiction around it.

Russia/Stalin is celebrating victory over Germany, and although there is a slight relaxation of societal rules, no-one is safe if Stalin feels there is the slightest hint of rebellion against his regime. This unstable and paranoid man has created a climate of fear, political correctness and suspicion so great that a silly and pretentious "Game" (based on the Onegin duel in the work of Pushkin) acted out by a bunch of teenage "Fatal Romantics" in an elite Moscow school triggers unimaginable and long lasting consequences. The Game goes horribly wrong and two participants are left dead: the authorities go into overdrive and the teenagers and their siblings end up in the grim and brutal Lubyanka prison being questioned, on the flimsiest of evidence, about a conspiracy - their teachers and parents also become suspect, with private passions and public roles coming under intense scrutiny. How best to reach the adults, why through their children obviously.

I am not sure about some of the characterisations, but overall it is satisfying and does take the reader through to proper conclusions which show the long term effects of the so called 'conspiracy' on all those involved. Tolstoy it ain't but still a very good read.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the fact and the fiction, 30 Sep 2013
By 
P. J. Dunn "Peter Dunn" (Warwickshire) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
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 quasi 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 quickly from a stock character into a very sympathetic figure who, by the end, is a much more interesting character than the intended heroine Serafima. Indeed I became much more worried about the fate of Satinov's 6 year old daughter Mariko than I did about Serafima.

In 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 Stalin: The 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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it, 7 May 2014
This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
I've just read the comments of the one-star critics and I have to say they do have a point. OK, so this isn't great literature - the whodunnit at the centre of the plot isn't fully explained (though it actually loses relevance anyway as the book progresses) and some of the characters' behaviour is a bit hard to imagine.

Still, I thought the plot (derived loosely from actual events, apparently) was original and well-conceived and, for me at least, engrossing right to the end. The author has successfully created a fictional thriller against a background of real historical events and with real historical figures (e.g. Stalin, Beria, Molotov) amongst the fictional characters. The depiction of life in Stalinist Russia as it must have been for anyone higher than a peasant in the heirarchy - the constant fear and suspicion; the habitual secrecy; the arrests and interrogations, the victims torn between loyalty and self-preservation - was particulary good.

The wrting style is straightforward and easy to read. All in all a pretty good absorbing read and I enjoyed it.

I did have some quibbles though - there were a surprising number of factual errors for a writer better-known for well-researched history books. While setting the scene in the very first paragraph he tells us that airborne seeds are the same thing as pollen (!!) and he repeats this confusion several times. Later on we hear that the legendary Hurricane fighter aircraft is American, and the U.S. jeep is referred to more than once as being manufactured by Willy (the company name is Willys). Minor issues, I know, but irritating and distracting. What happened to proofreading?
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece on Love, in a Paranoid Despotic Republic, 2 Oct 2013
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This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
I was excited to see that Simon Sebag Montefiore has turned his pen again towards fiction. "One Night in Winter" is an intensely moving, dark and enthralling tale of passion and secrets, it transcends the boundaries of genre, being at once a political thriller, historical fiction, and romance. Montefiore, a terrific storyteller, writes about family love, youthful romance, mystery and adulterous passion, equally brilliantly as he did writing about power in his compelling nonfiction work, combined with his genuine insight into the mind of Stalin and his court, and you have a book that will delight any reader.

A fidgety page-turner, this book is impossible to put down, an intelligent compilation of primary and secondary, real and fictional characters. Montefiore is unflinching in his depiction of Stalin as a sinister master manipulator, and the villainous nature of his acolytes, and most malignant monsters, Beria, Abakumov, and Kobylov. His fictional characters so well drawn, both believably flawed and heroic. Here is poor young Andrei with a tainted family name, beautiful Serafima with a secret, romantic hero Benya Golden with a broken heart, General Satinov with a dangerous passion, and best of all, ten-year old Senka, who is in my opinion the most wonderful character ever invented in fiction.

The author powerfully evokes the sense of a world in which everything is so delicately balanced, that the tiniest ripple can assume seismic proportions, packed with historical details, bringing post-war Russia to life, immaculately describing the lavish lifestyle of the Soviet elite in chandeliered apartments in the Granvosky building, owning more than one posh car, chauffeurs, and designer clothes, while the rest of the country lives in crumbling buildings, roads, walls, cars, all beige, peeling, khaki, and grey. All sharing an anxious existence under the shadow of the Central Committee (Stalin) the deity that controls all.

While looking into the deaths of two students from Moscow's most elite school, found shot dead on the Stone Bridge near the Kremlin, on the day of the victory parade in 1945, a Pushkin-inspired secret club of the "Fatal Romantics' is discovered, "If we cannot live with love, we choose death" was in the club's mission statement, when Stalin learns of such "bourgeois sentimentality" it pricks the ailing dictator's ears, fueled by his paranoia, the rounding up frenzy begins for everyone involved ages six to eighteen. Thus begins the horrifying, tear-jerking, heartrending "Children's Case". With their children in the dungeons of the Lubyanka, frantic parents inwardly fighting an emotional breakdown, could only smile in public and calmly proclaim that Soviet justice will prevail.

As the interrogation progresses, brother is played against sister, children against parents and the investigation takes a turn where now the children have the unbearable burden of saving their parents. While switching back and forth between timelines, the author slowly exposed the hidden world of families and marriages, unveiling an adulterous affair, and forbidden young love, both equally heartbreaking.

I've cried buckets over the Author's first novel "Sashenka", a chilling story that tugs at your heartstrings, and at the end you are bawling, I have also been a huge fan of his history books, particularly his masterpiece on Jerusalem, and now "One Night in Winter", complex, nerve jangling, and emotionally demanding, is a work of great imaginative achievement, and one I can reread with undiminished pleasure. I highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ok, 18 May 2014
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Felt at times more like young adult fiction. Which is not necessarily bad but I was expecting something else. Overall not too bad, overly long.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Novel, 17 April 2014
By 
L. Davidson (Belfast, N.Ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: One Night in Winter (Hardcover)
"One Night in Winter" is a quite superb book,set in Stalinist Moscow just after the end of the Second World War . It is a book primarily about love ,or "bourgeois sentimentalism" as some of the Communists in the book would call it - teenage love,family love and adulterous passions. It is set amongst the Stalinist bureaucratic elite and provides a fascinating insight into life at the top in Moscow at that time. The book begins with the shooting of two teenagers from an elite school, both of whom were part of the "Fatal Romantics Club"; a play acting , romantic club of literature students inspired by the works of Pushkin. The subsequent police investigation into the shooting unleashes the whole power of the tyrannical Soviet state on these privileged children and their parents as the children end up in the Lubianka at the hands of vicious police agents. This excellent book tells the tale of their interrogations, their love lives , the effects of their imprisonment on their families and via flashbacks reveals details about forbidden love affairs. We are taken into the heart of the Politburo, meeting Stalin himself and he is depicted quite brilliantly by the talented author. Lovers of history and politics would appreciate "One Night in Winter" for the insights into life under Stalin and the exceptional way Montefiore creates credible ,well rounded and likeable characters to populate his very authentically portrayed Stalinist world. The book is based on a true story and is a great piece of historical fiction as well as a fantastic romantic thriller. Rush out and buy it !
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book, 6 Feb 2014
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You don't need to be a diehard history fan to enjoy this book. Portraying the emotions of children and adults accurately, covering friendships and loyalty, marriage and illicit relationships amidst the austere background of communist Russia under Stalin's cruel dictatorship. The author had me enthralled from the very first page, the key characters so well depicted that I felt I personally got to know them and didn't want the book to end. Days after finishing it, I am still mulling over the feelings and motives of characters involved and wondering how I would have acted in such an era when one did not have absolute freedom of choice where the wrong choice could mean death of one's self or loved ones. This book is a must read.
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One Night in Winter
One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Hardcover - 27 Feb 2014)
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