The reader gets glimpses of Rasputin, of Lenin, Stalin, and various other heavyweights from the communist era. While it skips over the 1917 revolution itself, the 1937 Great Terror, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, it shows how these events affected the lives of a single family.
The book begins and ends in the archives. The Soviet archives are a most incredible place. Bureaucrats kept track of interrogations, imprisonments, and causes of death. I found my own grandfather's signature in a former KGB archive. Arrested in June, 1937, after a hot summer of imprisonment, he was ready to confess to being a counter-revolutionary spy (the much-used Article 58) and sentenced to death. Death was a shot to the back of the head - in September of '37. Was he quilty? Of course not. None of those people were guilty. And the Sashenka of Montefiore's novel wasn't guilty either. I can't give anything away - don't want to spoil anyone's enjoyment. Just read the book!
Oh, and because I loved the writing style so very much, here's a short sentence: "The sun and moon watched each other suspiciously across a milky sky." The smells are rich and the love scenes, both adult and parent/child are richly drawn. The suspense is always there. Every reader knows that with Stalin in the picture, no one was safe.
This is Simon Montefiore's first novel.