Review: Red Winter – Dan Smith

My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction, The Soviet Union
First published: 2014
ISBN: 9781409128199
Pages: 432

The chilling, sophisticated new historical thriller from the acclaimed writer of THE CHILD THIEF.
Russia, 1920. Kolya has deserted his Red Army unit and returns home to bury his brother and reunite with his wife and sons. But he finds the village silent and empty. The men have been massacred in the forest. The women and children have disappeared.
In this remote, rural community the folk tales mothers tell their children by candlelight take on powerful significance and the terrifying legend of The Deathless One begins to feel very real. Kolya sets out on a journey through dense, haunting forests and across vast plains as bitter winter sets in, in the desperate hope he will find his family. But there are very dark things in his past – and there’s someone, or something, on his trail…

Now this is a really excellent all round novel. Great writing, a really interesting period in which to set the story, a thorough knowledge of the time, the people, the backdrop (I’m presuming, because being no expert one can only go from the feeling the book develops in one) and a really well put together plot. Kolya is a character, well-rounded and sympathetic that he will stay with me a long time yet. The nearly nameless threat also explaining how the harsh landscape and times turned, people into unimaginable harshness themselves. Especially convincing is the portrayal of the ordinary people’s hope in thr revolution and freeing themselves of the Tsar, into growing despair as the Communist Party and the Red Army turn into something much, much worse. All of which means the ordinary people on the land, turn back to the only constant in their lives, their folklaw.

The sheer brutality of the Russian landscape especially in the winter, and the Soviet regime as it was at the time, is put over so well, you constantly thank your lucky stars you weren’t born there and then. As I’ve mentioned before, especially with books set in this time and place – and at any point when Stalin was alive, really – you can’t/shouldn’t maybe say you thoroughly enjoyed the book, as ‘enjoyed’ seems wrong, a slap in the face to those who actually did live there and then. Something of that sort. But you can appreciate the book and make sure you find out more about the time and place, so, if nothing else, you can perhaps do your bit to ensuring no one else has to go through this.

You can buy Red Winter from The Book Depository

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