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.--Barry Forshaw
Praise for Tully:
“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”