Such is the reality of Stalinist Russia evoked so convincingly by Montefiore. As an acclaimed biographer and historian of the period, he has the oppressive atmosphere down cold. In his second novel, based on historical incidents, he heightens tension further by focusing on imaginative young people.
In 1945 Moscow, a group of teenagers, sons and daughters of the Bolshevik elite, act out a scene from their favorite romantic poet, Pushkin. When two are shot to death, the rest are accused of subversive activity. Their situation worsens when a velvet-covered notebook from their play-acting club is discovered.
The web of suspicion spirals outward to encompass their teachers and parents, who must feign approval of their children’s incarceration in the Lubyanka prison or face charges of party disloyalty. Stepping back, Montefiore then reveals two passionate affairs the participants have reason to conceal.
Some potentially intriguing individual stories remain underexplored, but overall, this is a gripping, fast-moving tale of love, fear, sacrifice, and survival.
One Night in Winter was published yesterday by Harper ($26.99, hardcover, 480pp). Century is the UK publisher. This review first appeared in Booklist's April 15th issue.