Sashenka is the rich, spirited daughter of a Jewish industrialist, growing up in Petrograd during the First World War. She's also a revolutionary who reads Marx after lights-out at the Smolny Institute for Young Noblewomen.
"Sashenka," Simon Sebag Montefiore's first novel, begins on the last day of winter term, as Sashenka hurries out of classes to her waiting nanny—and to the secret police who are there to arrest her as a subversive. As the revolution unfolds, Sashenka plunges into its intrigues and sheds her past like dead skin. Two decades later, we find her married to a Soviet party boss and living in splendor near the Kremlin. But the choices she made in the heady days of the revolution come back to haunt her, and her friendship with Stalin cannot protect her family when it's their turn to be plunged into the secret police's "meat grinder."
Montefiore paints Russia in bold colors, from Rasputin's sordid salon to parties at the dachas of Stalin's cronies. He draws on rich material from his own nonfiction on Potemkin and Stalin, with titanic historic events serving as backdrop to Sashenka's adventures. The novel draws the reader through the turbulent Russian century in a way few fictional narratives have done.