In the new novel “Sashenka,” by Simon Montefiore, the protagonist, Sashenka Zeitlin, is put to the test at the young age of 16. She is the child of a well-off Jewish family who listens to her revolution-minded uncle give her a crash course in banned literature. He then sends her out to deliver guns, speeches and pamphlets around the countryside.
On the surface, Sashenka appears normal to her family; she attends private school, eats fancy foods, takes elegant baths and rides around in the family car. While this is all going on, she is secretly plotting her family’s destruction along with everyone like them. She is an idealistic revolutionary working for the underground and rejecting her affluent background.
Sashenka joins the revolution and begins to advance quickly within its ranks. They force her into an arranged marriage with an unemotional man, who also is one of Stalin’s key officers. Although she is devoted to her children, she desires more. Sashenka finds love with a Jewish writer. She is at the height of her success when she gets caught, leading to her arrest and psychological and physical torture. Her father eventually secures her release, but the accusations against her are true. She has secretly been studying Marxism and distancing herself from her parents while wanting revolution.
Montiefiore tries to bring Russian history to life through this teenage idealist. Sashenka is about the heavy price that’s paid for adhering to ideological purity. As Sashenka’s world begins to crumble around her, Montefiore pulls out her desire for power, passion and doomed romance. While the beginning of the book is slow-moving, Montefiore ultimately pulls the book together in the end through many surprises and a thoroughly unsettling climax.
Montiefiore constantly jumps around, introducing a multitude of characters without adequate description and inundating the reader with tons of dialogue and too many historical facts. His characters lack the depth that connects the reader to the story, he provides little action to keep the reader interested, and his plot is average and predictable. Action picks up in the last quarter of the book and the plot finally unfolds.
Many times Sashenka gets bogged down with historical facts. History buffs will love the attention to detail, but fiction lovers will be disappointed, feeling disjointed from the story. Will Sashenka and her husband survive or will they meet their downfall? The answer lies in the pages if you really want to read it.
(Michele Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)