22nd June 1941. This is the date that life for Tatiana Metanova, a young girl living in Leningrad, will change forever. First, it is the day that Hitler invades Russia, and second, it is the day that Tatiana meets Alexander Belov, a soldier in the Red Army. There is an instant and very strong attraction between Tatiana and Alexander, but circumstances conspire to keep them apart. She quickly finds out that Alexander is the new boyfriend of her sister Dasha, and has to choose between her own happiness and that of her beloved sister. Meanwhile, as the war continues, the living conditions in Leningrad become dreadful, and Tatiana sees people dying all around her, from starvation, illness and bombing.
And still, she and Alexander cannot let go of each other emotionally. Will they ever find a way to be together – and will either of them survive the war?
Paullina Simons is one of my very favourite authors, seemingly always able to create books which I can’t put down, filled with very realistic and believable characters. I felt the same way about this book, although I felt it was very different in style to such books of hers as Tully and The Girl In Times Square.
Tatiana was a great heroine. Although the book is told in the third person, I think that we got to see things predominantly from her point of view, and therefore she was probably the easiest character to sympathise with. She was feisty but vulnerable, and showed remarkable reserves of strength and courage.
I felt more ambivalent towards Alexander and at times actually disliked him. Although he and Tatiana had this incredible love, he sometimes treated her less than gallantly, and came across as a spoilt young man. However, his basic decency also came through and made me root for him.
The most fascinating and interesting part of the book for me was the description of war torn Leningrad. To read about the tiny rations people had to live on – just a tiny amount of bread often mixed with sawdust or cardboard to pad it out – was harrowing, and it was all too believable. Electricity was lost, and there was no clean water. People would attack each other for their meagre rations, or someone would be blown apart from a bomb while waiting in line for their food. The depictions of such conditions were vivid and distressing, yet utterly compelling.
The book was not perfect – at times it did lapse into slushy, sugary dialogue and I thought I had accidentally stumbled upon a Mills and Boon novel, and there was much handwringing and agonising between the main two characters. But despite this, it won me round. I found the book hard to put down, and was genuinely interested to see how the story wound up.
It is the first book in a trilogy, and I will certainly be reading the following two books. It’s not my favourite book by this author, but certainly one that I’m glad I read. Recommended.