One Night in Winter - Simon Sebag Montefiore

1945. Moscow, Russia.

Jubilance raged over the war-ravaged city. Hitler was defeated. New beginnings lay ahead for a nation with promises of greatness by Stalin. The hope for normalcy raised slowly from the ashes.

The young Andrei Kurbsky saw “crumbling buildings, their façades peppered with shrapnel, windows shattered, roads pockmarked with bomb craters. Everything – the walls, the houses, the cars – everything except the scarlet banners was drab, beige, peeling, khaki, grey. But faces of the passersby were rosy as if victory and sunlight almost made up for the lack of food, and the streets were crowded with pretty girls in skimpy dresses, soldiers, sailors and officers in white summer uniforms. Studebaker trucks, Willys jeeps and the Buicks of officials rumbled by – but there were also carriages pulled by horses, carts heaped with hay or bedding or turnips, right in the middle of this spired city with its gold domes. Sometimes, when he closed his eyes in the heat and the world went a soft orange, Andrei heard laughter and singing and he was sure he could hear the city itself healing in the sunshine.”
Life was starting over for everyone. The top officials in the Communist party were compensated with lavish lifestyle in the high-ceilinged apartments in the Granvosky building (otherwise known as the Fifth House of the Soviets), with dazzling corridors of capacious parquet floors and crystal chandeliers. Each official owned more than one chauffeur-driven car: open-topped Mercedes and -Packards, Dodge, Cadillacs, limousines, and Rolls Royces. It was also the home of Serafima Romashkina.

A new life was also starting for Andrei and his mother who just returned from exile in Stalinabad, “The Paris of Central Asia”, also known as “The Athens of Turkestan”. Everybody knew what that meant. “It was his tainted biography all over again.”

Young, poor, optimistic, ambitious, inexperienced Andrei would meet Serafima.

It is a magnificent book: well written, extremely detailed, beautiful prose, spell-binding with no unfinished characters. The story is about a group of children and their families, every member, their teachers, and what happened to them, during the reign of Stalin. There were many love stories, too many, to be told. A historical novel at its best.