I’ve never read a memoir of one of my favourite authors before.
J.K. Rowling hasn’t released one, and Harper Lee’s isn’t exactly written by her, so the fact that Paullina Simons has released one written by her made me quite happy.
I read Simons’ The Bronze Horseman last year, and since then I have picked up the sequels Tatiana and Alexander and The Summer Gardens. I have been hesitant to read The Summer Gardens just because I have become so attached to the world that Simons’ has created.
When I heard that she had a memoir about the research she did before writing the first novel, I knew I could push off finishing the series just a little bit longer.
Wanna see if I thought Simons self reflected aided one of my favourite historic fiction novels? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.
From the author of the celebrated, internationally bestselling The Bronze Horseman saga comes a glimpse into the private life of its much loved creator, and the real story behind the epic novels. Paullina Simons gives us a work of non-fiction as captivating and heart-wrenching as the lives of Tatiana and Alexander.
Only a few chapters into writing her first story set in Russia, her mother country, Paullina Simons travelled to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) with her beloved Papa. What began as a research trip turned into six days that forever changed her life, the course of her family, and the novel that became The Bronze Horseman. After a quarter-century away from her native land, Paullina and her father found a world trapped in yesteryear, with crumbling stucco buildings, entire families living in seven-square-metre communal apartments, and barren fields bombed so badly that nothing would grow there even fifty years later. And yet there were the spectacular white nights, the warm hospitality of family friends and, of course, the pelmeni and caviar.
At times poignant, at times inspiring and funny, this is both a fascinating glimpse into the inspiration behind the epic saga, and a touching story of a family’s history, a father and a daughter, and the fate of a nation.
The history Simons weaves through this memoir is truly special. Hearing her describe being in the Pisarev Cemetery, seeing what 125 grams of bread baked with sawdust and cardboard, and ‘participating’ in, to the best of her abilities, the Romanov burial are some of the most interesting things I’ve ever read about.
When reading this memoir, I felt lucky that Simons was willing to share her father with readers of The Bronze Horseman. When I was reading some of the passages of Simons and her father, Yuri Handler, I was able to recall the fictional relationship between Tatiana and her father in The Bronze Horseman. I’m not sure if Simons did this on purpose, but it wouldn’t be the first time I have heard of authors writing characters based on real life counterparts.
Just as with The Bronze Horseman, my heart was shattered with a single chapter. When Simons recalls visiting the Fifth Soviet building, and how it destroyed her childhood image of Russia I was heartbroken. I literally had to put the book down and have my own reflection of what it would be like to visit my childhood home. In fact, I did visit my childhood home, which has since been torn down, which made me feel closer to this book and to the experience Simons went through.
Finally, and perhaps most important, I found the afterword penned was the best way to end this novel. The way Simons explains ‘I justified writing this book by pretending that writing it would help me get into the soul of Leningrad during a war I had not lived through’ and that ‘Six Days in Leningrad was its own means and its own end’ really speaks to Simons intentions. This book was not written for the monetary value, it was written as a tribute to experiences, family, history, and for that I am forever grateful that Simons shared it with readers.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.