Simon Sebag Montefiore (b. 1965) doesn’t need us to trumpet his achievements, but in case you haven’t read all his books, I thought I’d mention this versatile author who has written both history and fiction. The common thread among his books is Russia. (except for the book, Jerusalem, which I intend to read before my next trip to Israel in November).
I read The Court of the Red Tsar for an International Baccalaureate Teacher’s Seminar over a decade ago. All of us history teachers were fascinated by his extensive research. It seemed like once the archives in Russia opened in 1994, Montefiore hopped on the first flight to the FSU ready to take notes. The Court of the Red Tsar dazzles history teachers-and anyone else who reads it- with new details about Stalin’s rule and his control over his ministers. His prose flows and most of us IB History teachers decided our students would enjoy reading entire sections of his work.
Reading Sashenka and One Night in Winter, fictional accounts of life in Russia, one marvels at the wealth of historical detail that accompany the fast-moving narratives. Montefiore includes the small details like Stalin’s use of a blue pencil to mark who will be executed or uses the slang that Beria employed when talking about torture like “French wrestling” or the “conveyor belt.” I especially appreciated the essay at the end of One Night in Winter that delineates what’s historical fact and what is invented in the book.
None of Montefiore’s books had a direct bearing on the narratives of Vera and Alisa, but he sets the bar both for historical and fictional writing. To read more about Montefiore, see his webpage: www.simonsebagmontefiore.com.