The Bad Old Days

Those of you who read Sashenka a couple of years ago, will be delighted to learn that Simon Sebag Montefiore has delved again into the world of historic fiction.  As he did then, and in the manner of others such as Harry Thompson with his This Thing of Darkness, he weaves fiction around fact.  But where Thompson built dialogue, Montefiore goes further, enhancing the tale with his own characters in the same historic events.  And as he did with Sashenka, he has created a work of immense craft.  Indeed he has exceeded expectations with his second volume of fiction.  His latest is One Night in Winter, again in Russia, Moscow this time, and a later period.


Montefiore takes us to the end of WWII.  Russia exalts in the defeat of Nazi Germany, through great sufferance; and America is about to announce, and drop, the worst weapon of all, and to become a super-power.

These are the dark days of exile, of gulags, and of whispers overheard, meanings implied.  People spoke in code, avoiding names; conversations were whispered in bathrooms with taps running.  There were men of power, and their names were Beria, and Stalin.  Manipulation.

Building conversations, crafting dialogue, Montefiore introduces his own characters around very real events.  And we become engrossed, watching, mesmerised, as ripples spread outwards.

We start with a group of children, taking their school studies one stage further.  And we learn of connections, of wider families.  And we discover what goes on in the corridors and rooms of the Lubianka, in the 1940s.

Now I’m not about to tell you here the basis for the tale, far less the outcome.  We focus on one night, visit earlier events, and move forward a decade, then another two.  But I am going to suggest that you get yourself a copy and delve in.  You won’t regret it.  It might be an emotional trip.

And I’m pleased to say that the author has also added another name, another couple of volumes, to a list of books I’d like to find.  More on them later, perhaps.




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