First of all, I am not sure why people love this story so much when there are so much better books/movies out there about: lovers separated by war (“Atonement”), Russia during its communist era (“Doctor Zhivago”), escape from Soviet Russia (“East/West”). I truly can’t find a grain of the excellence everybody is talking about in reviews posted on this website.
The book starts well enough: a very young girl eating ice cream meets a soldier at a bus stop. They instantly fall for each other. They start meeting every day, walking and talking for hours. I must admit, this part is quite entrancing - all these emotions, and Tatiana obsessing over Alexander’s every word, every glance, every touch - I suppose I am a sucker for extended foreplay… However the interest starts vanishing once you read for the 50th time which bus they take, how many kilometers they walk, what streets they decide to walk along this time, etc. I guess Paullina Simmons must have done a lot of research about Leningrad and wrote her book with a map of the city nearby, but this is not the kind of detail that adds to the story!
The next blow comes when we learn that Alexander (Oh my!) is the man Tatiana’s sister Dasha is madly in love (and sleeps on regular basis) with. Tatiana, the tender-hearted martyr she is, decides to give up her love for Alexander for the sake of her beloved sister. Which would be OK I guess (every epic love story has to have some kind of obstacle for lovers to overcome) if we don’t learn later that Dasha is a self-centered tramp who also physically abuses Tatiana. Does Dasha deserve Tatiana’s sacrifice? No, she doesn’t, therefore Tatiana’s sacrifice is pretty much pointless and even silly. Dimitri is a more convincing “obstacle,” but even he (I am sure of it) wouldn’t make passes on Tatiana if Alexander simply marries her. What I am getting at is that the obstacles standing between our lovers are laughable at best and do not justify 400 pages worth of angst.
This fateful meeting is followed by another 100 pages of repetitive ramble. How many times can I possibly enjoy reading about Alexander and Dimitri coming over to Tatiana’s house, having dinner and drinking vodka, Tatiana watching Alexander with angst , Alexander seating with unreadable expression, Alexander getting it on with Dasha while Tatiana is groped outside by Dimitri, etc. My answer is: not many, it wears off after the second time.
Same goes for the next 200 pages (in a very small font) depicting blockade of Leningrad where the same thing happens over and over again: Tatiana goes out to get her family’s food rations, she is cold and in danger all the time, she comes home and portions the food (1 kg, 500 g, 300 g, 250 g of bread, etc.), everybody eats, they are hungry, they go to sleep. Same thing happens the next day, and next, and next, until someone dies.
The honeymoon part is written in exactly the same way. Another 100 pages of the same scenario: Tatiana and Alexander make love, talk cheesy rubbish, Tatiana makes cabbage pies/potato pancakes/mushrooms, they make love, talk rubbish, swim, Alexander attempts to build something, Tatiana flirts, they make love again, more cabbage pies. Come on, enough already!
Some more irritating things: Tatiana’s magical recovery from broken leg and 3 ribs in a matter of weeks; her ability to speak and understand English after flipping through English-Russian dictionary; Marina’s pointless presence in the story; Tatiana’s martyrdom; Alexander’s “perfection” in comparison to Russian men who, according to Simmons, are all smelly, with dirty fingernails, and oblivious to violence against women.
Bottom line is: this book could have been much better with 300 pages of repetitive nonsense edited out, because ultimately it has a decent story of love and survival in difficult circumstances, but unfortunately it got buried under a mountain of cheese.
Needless to say, I will not be reading the sequels or any other books by this author.