The Bronze Horseman (2002) by Paullina Simons is one of those rare novels that leaves its mark on you. It’s a novel featuring a powerful lovestory set within a WWII backdrop. Captivating. Engrossing. Touching. Moving. Memorable. All adjectives that accurately describe one of the best fiction novels I’ve had the pleasure to read and recommend.
The story is thus:
Leningrad, 1941: The European war seems far away in this city of fallen grandeur, where splendid palaces and stately boulevards speak of a different age, when the city was known as St. Petersburg. Now two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanov, live in a cramped apartment, sharing one room with their brother and parents. Such are the harsh realities of Stalin’s Russia, but when Hitler invades the country, the siege of its cities makes the previous severe conditions seem luxurious.
Against this backdrop of danger and uncertainty, Tatiana meets Alexander, an officer in the Red Army whose self-confidence sets him apart from most Russian men and helps to conceal a mysterious and troubled past.
Once the relentless winter and the German army’s blockade take hold of the city, the Metanovs are forced into ever more desperate measures to survive. With bombs falling and food becoming scarce, Tatiana and Alexander are drawn to each other in an impossible love that threatens to tear her family apart and reveal his dangerous secret — a secret as destructive as the war itself. Caught between two deadly forces, the lovers find themselves swept up in a tide of history at a turning point in the century that made the modern world.
Why do I love this story? I fell in love with Alexander Belov that’s why. His love and commitment to Tatiana during the War was completely inspiring and engrossing to me. Their first meeting is one of the best I’ve ever read. Alexander, in his army uniform, first spies Tatiana as she is eating her ice cream and waiting for her bus. Their eyes meet. A connection is made and a love is born between two people that you can’t help but cheer for and root for during the war. The story is set in Leningrad, Russia, 1941. When the story opens, Russia is on the brink of war. Tatiana’s character, to many readers, comes off as being a bit immature. Whimsical even. She seems unable to grasp the seriousness of her country entering war and the dire consequences thereof.
War comes and Tatiana and her family are left to survive. They depend on the help they get from Alexander when rations have made things a little tight. Alexander becomes a constant fixture in the Mentanov household. Why? Because after Alexander first introduces himself to Tatiana and follows her home, she learns from her sister Dasha, that she is dating a Red Army officer who happens to be none other than Alexander. Tatiana is crushed a little. The situation quickly turns into a triangle of sorts as Alexander unsuccessfully tries to pursue Tatiana. Alexander is more than willing to break Dasha’s heart but Tatiana won’t have any of it. She loves her sister too much. Thus, the back and forth between Alexander, Dasha, and Alexander’s friend, Demetri gets interesting.
The war progresses for the worst; the food supply is cut off and starvation sets in for many parts of Russia. Tatiana and her family must get out of St. Petersberg and with Alexander’s help, that becomes their primary goal. The setting, the war, the characters—I was engrossed. I loved many things about this novel but notably the intimacy between Tatiana and Alexander took center stage. The author’s characterization is solid. She goes on to explain Alexander’s heritage; Explores Tatiana’s decision to live a life of lies to protect her sister that has consequences. The author has an excellent ear for dialogue. One of the best that I’ve read thus far. However, Ms. Simons subject matter in many of her novels tend to be rather depressing. This is one of the weaknesses of her writing: the subject matter. I’ve tried to read Tully twice and haven’t completed it yet.
However, for those fans who have enjoyed The Bronze Horseman, you may not realize that there are currently three books that feature Tatiana and Alexander and they are The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander and The Summer Garden. The last two novels were only available outside the US but I think that the latter is still only available outside the US (update all books are available digitally in the US). For some odd reason, Paullina Simons couldn’t publish a book here for lack of an audience. I love this book, however, The Bronze Horseman is not without it’s critics. For every book that you love there is one who hates it. Such is life.
If you’re interested in a love story set during the war, then you need to run out to your local bookstore and find this book. You won’t be disappointed. However, after finishing it, you will need to find the sequels in order to find closure. Consider yourself warned.