Monday, June 2, 2008
Tatiana is eighteen years old and pregnant when she miraculously escapes war-torn Leningrad to the West, believing herself to be a widow. Her husband, Major Alexander Belov, a decorated hero of the Soviet Union, has been arrested by Stalin's infamous secret police and is awaiting execution as a traitor and a spy.
Tatiana begins her new life in America. In wartime New York City she finds work, friends and a life beyond her dreams. However, her grief is ineacapable and she keeps hearing Alexander calling out to her.
Meanwhile, Alexander faces the greatest danger he's ever known. An American trapped in Russia since adolescence, he has been serving in the Red Army and impersonating a Soviet citizen to protect himself. For him, Russia's war is not over, and both victory and defeat will mean certain death.
As the Second World War moves towards its horrific close, Tatiana and Alexander are surrounded by the ghosts of their past and of each other. In the ruins of Europe, Alexander can't escape Stalin's power. Far away, Tatiana must think first of their son Anthony. They must struggle against destiny and despair in the fight of their lives.
A master of historical epic, Paullina Simons takes us on a journey across continents, time and the entire breadth of human emotion, to create a heartendingly beautiful love story that will live long after the final page is turned.
I devoured this book in two days. The 2nd in The Bronze Horseman trilogy this book picked up where the last one left off. I can't say it was as great as The Bronze Horseman but I enjoyed reading about these two lovers again. Plus, it reminded me even more of the Outlander series, with the separation of the two and their struggle to reunite.
As much as I enjoyed this book, I was disappointed that Tatiana and Alexander are separated for the greater part of it. We see their different points of view as they are on their own, separated from each other. Alexander, having avoided execution, spends his time trying to escape the Soviet Union, while continuing to serve in the Red Army, but he is eventually imprisoned after the war in the Gulag. From Alexander's viewpoint, we get his story of first leaving America as a boy of 10 with his parents, and the rude awakening of the poverty and squalor of living in the Soviet Union of the 1930's. Whereas The Bronze Horseman was really Tatiana's story, Tatiana and Alexander is really Alexander's story. It's a sad tale, first leaving his wonderful home in Barrington, MA, and then facing the hardships of the Soviet Union, and the eventual spiral down of his mother's alcoholism and his parent's arrests and his capture and escape from the NKVD (Russian secret police). We also get Alexander's background of all his liasons with women as a soldier in the Red Army that the slimy Dmitri alluded to more than once in the first book. He had so many, he didn't call them by their names for he could never remember them all. Shura was no saint before he met Tatiana! It made him more realistic to me, more down to earth, not so much the Superman he is depicted as in the first book. He has his flaws just like anyone else. He even makes loves to some nameless girl standing up with a cigarette in his mouth the whole time!
I think I enjoyed reading about Alexander's background better, it was depressing, but more engrossing and detailed and poignant. The thought of him as this cute little Cub Scout in his nice little town with the picket fences and clapboard houses is just too sad. My heart goes out to him, having to leave all of it because of his parent's misguided idealism and faith in the Soviet Union. He has such a terribly hard life from then on.
From Alexander's childhood, it segues right into the present time (1944) with Alexander in the Red Army, making his way through Poland, fighting the Germans. We meet an old face which is a surprise, a nice twist and heartwrenching turn in the plot. Alexander also has another Dmitri in some ways, Nikolai, who is another prisoner with a secret, who won't leave his side. The reason was pretty easy to figure out. I like battle scenes in books, so it didn't bother me reading about how they had to fight and the various skirmishes against the Germans, though some may find it a bit dull.
On Tatiana's side of the ocean, she is alone in New York City, learning to live with her new baby boy, Anthony, and trying to cope with a new country and language and the loss of Alexander. Luckily, she's a smart girl and adapts to life in New York with the few friends she makes working on Ellis Island as a nurse. She never gives up on Alexander and remains true to him, despite her longings for a pair of strong arms and broad shoulders. She does not give in, and has a narrow escape from a would be lover, which only reinforces her decision not to rush into a relationship with anyone. She still can't quite let go of Shura, believing he could still be alive. Again, we see how strong she is and determined and it's so gratifying when she finally finds out Alexander is not dead and she goes after him to rescue him - that's where it gets really exciting.
The last 200 pages of the book are the best. Tatiana, dying her hair black, goes to Germany with the Red Cross and cleverly manages to find out what prison camp Alexander is imprisoned in. Okay, a bit implausible and read more like a Mission Impossible episode, but I couldn't put it down during that whole rescue part and reunion leading all the way up to the epilogue. If there's one thing I'd change about Shura, it's his chain smoking and the way he can become violent and almost mad at the thought of losing Tatiana. I couldn't help feeling through the flashbacks and in the last book and this one that he was always wasting their precious last days and hours together by being mad or jealous at Tatiana. To me, it seemed out of character, I had a hard time understanding it in him.
But, without giving away the whole ending, I'll just say it's happy and satisfying.
On another note, a few other reviews I've read thought the sex scenes in this book, were a bit over the top, but I don't necessarily agree. I guess I'm just so used to reading sex scenes in romances it didn't even cross my mind as being over the top, I suppose I'm a bit liberal in that respect. By the time they are finally reunited, they understandably have an explosive sexual reunion (once they are able), and I didn't find it all that unusual, albeit the circumstances were trying while they are on the run from the NKGB. Some of their flashbacks were intense, but no more so than in the last book, in my opinion.
To sum it up, was this book as good as the first? No, since a lot of it was a repeat of the previous book. But it was enjoyable nonetheless and brought closure to this part of the story. I'm eager to read the last in the trilogy, The Summer Garden.