- Page Count: 637
- Release Date: April 2001
- My Rating: 4 stars
The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler’s armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.
Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander’s impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.
This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever tried to write because I really can’t deny that I was infuriated with the characters for most of the book… but every time I tried to set the book aside I’d find myself picking it up again a few minutes later. I was so completely wrapped up in the story and honestly couldn’t put this down! I don’t remember the last time I was so engrossed in a book, so I’m going to chalk up my strong reactions to the story as a good thing because I actually cared.
I really feel like I’m talking about 3 separate stories at times because this was so long. So much happened… I don’t want to spoil anything in the last 2/3, so here’s an overview of the beginning:
Tatiana is a naive and innocent girl who’s almost 17 and lives in a cramped room in Communist Russia with her grandparents, parents, sister, and brother. One day she’s told to go to the store to get some food because Germany is invading Russia. She can’t imagine them ever running out of food so she buys ice cream instead and waltzes around town. She runs into a soldier named Alexander and it’s basically love at first sight. He helps her back to her home where they discover she’s the sister of the girl he’s been seeing.
Tatiana starts out the story as the world’s biggest martyr & pushover and spends the next 200+ pages sacrificing the guy she loves, her food, and her general well-being so that her sister and family can have what they want and be happy. She convinces Alexander to keep seeing her sister and it’s just this endless ANGST of them being in the same room but unable to look at each other. They still see each other secretly, though. It’s a little ridiculous how mean Tatiana’s family was to her, but I guess it helps put her character in a vulnerable position so Alexander can get angry and defend her when her father beats her etc. Then the siege of Leningrad really gets going and everyone starts dying of starvation.
The best plot device for tension was definitely Alexander’s “friend” Dimitri. He’s a ruthlessly self-serving guy who knows the truth about Alexander’s past (which I won’t spoil) and basically controls him because of that. Dimitri takes whatever Alexander is interested in, so that’s yet another reason why Alexander has to pretend to be totally uninterested in Tatiana. Those parts kind of reminded me of The Winner’s Crime at times.
And all of that is only the first bit of the book. Things change drastically and SO MUCH HAPPENS. The whole scope was seriously impressive. I mean, it’s 800+ pages and I felt like I lived their struggle by the end. And even though I have no interest in ever going to Russia, I absolutely love stories set in historical Russia. I’ve seen some complaints that some parts of the siege of Leningrad were historically inaccurate, but that didn’t really hurt the story. I agree that the book could probably have a few hundred pages trimmed off, but the writing was fine and I was never bored.
But just a few complaints:
Tatiana’s whole family felt like a bunch of fairy tale villains at times… like they were so absurdly mean and callous that they felt more like caricatures. It was just overkill. And nobody was MAKING Alexander sleep with Tatiana’s sister. Pretty sure the angsty little drama llamas were causing more of their own problems than Hitler was for part of the story.
I think my problem was I just wasn’t the biggest fan of Alexander in the end. I know a lot of my Goodreads friends LOVE him, but I just have zero tolerance for men who are super possessive, aggressive, controlling, don’t listen when women say no, and who have a violent temper. I can’t get past that. I know it’s another country & time period, which is why I kept reading despite everything. But the level of his love/obsession with Tatiana could easily turn abusive (and it was kind of creepy at times already… like he was more into her “innocence” than her). And him punching the wall by Tatiana’s face and screaming at her and hurting her because he’s just crazy with concern is… not that romantic to me?!? He legitimately freaked me out in some scenes that I’m pretty sure were meant to be sweet. And Tatiana’s willingness to literally DIE for him and completely disregard herself was pathetic.
Ok, now I’m laughing. Maybe I’m just not the best person to review dramatic love stories. I get that people love this stuff, but I mostly want to sit everyone down and COMMUNICATE. I guess this just isn’t my scene.
Anyways, a few other comments: I did like Tatiana’s character growth and that she finally took action. The end was super intense! And even if I wasn’t a huge fan of Alexander, I still completely cared about the situation they were in and just NEEDED EVERYTHING TO BE OK. Some parts of the story were a bit too angsty or cheesy for me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still got super into everything. This would make a seriously epic miniseries!