Historical Fiction is a genre that I reach for quite regularly in my reading life. I enjoy being able to be transported to the past to learn about everything that came before me. Yet, I don’t normally reach for novels set historically in Russia, partially due to not knowing how to pronounce the majority of names and partially due to my lack of knowledge about Russian and its history. I must admit, when I was pursuing Book Depository for another book to add to my cart, I did decided on One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore mostly due to how pretty the cover was. Interested to see if One Night in Winter has made me eager to learn more about Russian History? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.
Moscow, 1945. One Night in Winter opens with Stalin and his comrades celebrating victory over Nazi Germany at the Great Kremlin Palace. At the same time, a teenage boy and girl are found dead by their schoolmates. The teenagers, however, are not ordinary. In fact they are children of some of Russia’s most decorated leaders. As the characters try to come unravel the details of the tragedy, many begin to wonder if murder, suicide, or something else entirely is at play. The investigation into these deaths will uncover secrets, both of the teenagers, their friends, and the adults in their lives.
Oh boy did this book start out promisingly!
One Night in Winter is structured into five parts and an epilogue. I really did see promise in Part One of this book because the narrative was carried by a single perspective, that of Andrei Kurbsky. Kurbsky explained everything leading up to the deaths of the teenager, including how Russian society was conducted at the time that the book takes place, thus making a good set up for the rest of the book.
Yet, in Part Two, and for the rest of the novel, Montefiore decided to shift the narrative to multiple characters, making Kurbsky almost unimportant. This left the story muddled down and confusing, which made me hesitant to continue, given that Kurbsky’s narrative had worked well in Part One. Also, due to the lack of order in Part Two, the characters felt rather static, regardless of what they were going through as a result of the deaths.
Part Three continued to confuse the story by choosing to dig deep into a forced romance angle that really didn’t need to be explored in order to move the narrative forward. Again Montefiore chose multiple perspectives to push the plot forward, and it once again it detached me further from the story desperately trying to be told. By the end of Part Three I really just wanted the book to be over, but because I had invested so much time in the novel (the end of Part Three ends on page 321) I figured I might as well finish.
The “confessions” of the children in the later parts of the novel were very reminiscent of how the Manitowoc County Police Department obtained information in the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” Just like with the documentary I found myself internally screaming at the children, because regardless of their “confessions”, they were already guilty in the eyes of Soviet Russia.
Overall, I found the book’s historic material interesting enough to potentially seek out more, however, I may not be seeking it out from Montefiore.
Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.