Review: Red Year – Jan Shapin

Guess who’s back, back again?

Yes, it is I, The Paperback Pilgrim, back again to bring you my thoughts, opinions, and ramblings on a wide variety of books and book related topics!

For my first post back, I figured I would start with a historical fiction novel set in 1920’s China.

Did I enjoy Red Year by Jan Shapin? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book 

Can a red-haired woman from Chicago single-handedly force Joseph Stalin to back down?

China, 1927. Thirty-three-year-old Rayna Prohme, accompanying her left-wing journalist husband, becomes the political confidante and lover of Mikhail Borodin, the Russian commander sent to prop up a failing Chinese revolution. In a bid to continue their love affair, Rayna hatches a plan to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the Chinese revolution’s founder, to Moscow. But Moscow doesn’t welcome the women. Borodin shuns them. Rayna’s stipend and her housing arrangements are cancelled. “Go home,” she is told.

But Rayna does not want to go home to an ordinary life, to her husband and Chicago. Instead, she applies to a Soviet-espionage school that soon demands she spy on Mme. Sun. The Chinese widow is, by now, in grave danger as her exit visa is blocked. Rayna must make a choice — Borodin and Russia or Mme. Sun and China.

The Review 

With any fictionalized accounts of a real person, I first read the historical notes of Red Year to grasp the context of the world I was about to read.

Jan Shapin has a way with words within her four-page historical notes section to really catch the readers attention, while also showing just how much research she must have done in order to tell the story effectively.

The settings of both China and Russia are told in a way in which it makes the reader what to learn more about their struggles during the 1920’s.

Stalin is mentioned through out the book, and there is an amazingly written scene between the main character Ranya, Stalin, and his interpreter that hints as to the man Stalin is about to become.

The romance between Borodin and Ranya was very reminiscent of the romance in The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons.

The lily pond is quite an important scene and the fact that Shapin mentions it once more at the end of the novel solidified the romantic entanglement between these two characters (in the historical notes it should be mentioned that Shapin wasn’t 100 per cent sure these two characters were involved romantically.)

Personally, though, I rather enjoyed the romance between Ranya and Jimmy, if you can call it a romance.

My only complaint with this book is the length.

At the end of the novel, I understood what emotions Shapin wanted me to feel, and yet, due to the book’s length, I didn’t feel I had a strong enough connection to Rayna to express them.

Overall Rating: out 3.5 of 5 stars. 

Purchase Links

 Write Words, Inc| Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo

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  1. Jan Shapin

    Thanks for the really nice review, Sara. I’m so pleased you liked the Rayna- Stalin scene, which is the tipping point of the novel, and also the lily pond romance, which in some ways is the engine..If I’m not 100% sure there was a romance, I’ll still claim 99% sure.
    Jan Shapin


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