New Fiction: One Night in Winter – Simon Sebag Montefiore

Speaking of historians with a vivid eye and bracing storytelling skills, Newsweekwrote of this award-winning historian, “Montefiore is that rarest of things: a historian who writes great, weighty tomes that read like the best thrillers . . . He has a visceral understanding of what makes history worth reading.”

This is his second novel and I’d argue that he also has a visceral sense of what makes fiction worth reading. One Night in Winter is based on an actual incident in Russian history. It takes place in Moscow at the end of WWII and opens with two children—a boy and girl at an elite boarding school—lying dead of gunshot. Is it murder, suicide, part of an anti-Stalinist plot?

In a move that might seem absurd were in not based in historical fact, Stalin responds by ordering the round-up and interrogation of children.  And this ends up revealing two secret love affairs, one among the children and one among their parents. Both affairs have the potential to unravel many lives in what is ultimately a story about love, marriage, adultery and family.

One Night in Winter has already been published in England to spectacular reviews. It could be a sleeper here—it’s certainly a great summer read for fans of history and thrillers alike.

Sudden, mysterious arrests. Brutal interrogations. The crushing of any hint of antigovernment thought. Constant, stomach-churning terror. Such is the reality of Stalinist Russia evoked so convincingly by Montefiore….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 playacting 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.… This is a gripping, fast-moving tale of love, fear, sacrifice, and survival.”
— Booklist

One Night in Winter really conveyed a sense of the suffocating squirrelly society of Stalin’s Moscow. This book has it all… secret love and secrets in general, death, betrayal, history, politics.”
– Tammy Glenn-Allen, buyer, NACSCORP, Oberlin, OH

“Compulsively involving. Our fear for the children keeps up turning the pages…. We follow the passions with sympathy… The knot of events tugs at a wide range of emotions rarely experienced outside an intimate tyranny.”
The Times (London)

“Montefiore’s knowledge of the period helps him bring 1945 Moscow to bleak, fascinating life. He reanimates historical figures to unsettling effect, from Stalin himself to his dissolute son Vasily, and Beria….[M]ore than a recreation of history: by turns engrossing and upsetting, Montefiore makes his cast of children both hopelessly romantic and hopelessly moving.”
The Observer (London)

“A gripping thriller about private life and poetic dreams in Stalin’s Russia…. [A] page turner….Whether its subject is power or love, a darkly enjoyable read
Guardian (London)

One Night in Winter (9780062291882) by Simon Montefiore. $26.99 hardcover. 5/6/14 on sale.

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