The Bronze Horseman by Paulina Simons
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
The Bronze Horseman is commonly described as an historical romance set in Russia during World War 2. This is true, but the book is so much more than that. It's a story of struggle and survival. It's a story of love and sisterly devotion.
It's also a story that severely criticizes Russians and Communism (something I wasn't expecting).
Despite the fact I enjoyed The Bronze Horseman, I did have some issues. Perhaps my biggest issue had to do with pacing, specifically during the Lennigrad siege. How many times do I have to read read about Tatinana maneuvering around bomb attacks to get her family's ration for the day? How many times to I have to read about her and her family's struggle with starvation and death? Do those chapters have a purpose? Yes. Regardless, I believe that certain scenes and passages could have been left out while still maintaining authenticity.
If there's one thing that surprised me about this book, it's that Simons didn't shy away from the realities and horrors of war. There was a surprising amount of death (and sex in the second half) that caught me off guard. Still, it's a war story. What do you expect? I think Simons did a great job really putting readers into the position of the thousands of Lennigrad civilians, to the point that I felt guilty about the food I had.
My second issue had to do with characters. I liked most of the characters well enough in the beginning. Then Dasha becomes selfish and petty, her father a drunk, and her mother equally selfish and petty. Alexander also begins to show a darker side of him--a side that leans toward possessiveness and brutality. Alexander cares for Tatiana, there's not doubt. War brings out the worst in people, and that's perhaps why I still managed to care for these characters (flaws and all). Tatiana, in particular, showed tremendous character growth by the end. She starts off as a careless, naive girl to someone who
I think it's important to mention that Alexander and Tatiana do harbor feelings for each other, while Alexander was courting her sister. It's important, because I know many readers will be put off by this set-up. I was never bothered by it, though, because I believe Simons handles this issue with great sensitivity and brings to light some difficult questions. Did Tatiana make the right decision? Is it better to tell someone you love a white lie, or to tell them a truth that might ruin a relationship forever. That's up to the reader to decide, of course, but I suggest you don't let this aspect of the story deter you from picking up the book. It's well-writtien with severely flawed character, about a very tumultuous time in history for the Russians. It's bleak, it's romantic, and it's brutal. I was very much invested in the story, and I can't wait to see what happens in the sequel.