Series: The Bronze Horseman #1
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: September 2009
Source/Format: Birthday gift from Kelly (Thanks!) || Paperback
The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler's armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.
Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander's impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.
The Bronze Horseman is one of the longest fictional books I've ever read. It is also worth every single of its 810 pages. While I had my reservations about parts of this tome, it is one compelling + intense read. And that is a very good thing, truth be told. Because the fact that Simons managed to make me care about Tatiana, Alexander and their fate to read all of these pages, well, that's certainly no easy feat.
I've been fascinated with Russia - place, culture, history - for ages, but The Bronze Horseman has encouraged even more interest. Simons portrays everything so vividly that readers will feel submerged in Russia as it was then, Russian culture as it might still be. Inspired by this, here are five essential things about The Bronze Horseman expressed using Russian terms:
It strikes me as fitting that the same word is used for history and story, since this novel is a little bit of both. It is history in how it chronicles the wartime in Russia, particularly the siege of Leningrad and the conflict + bloodshed of the front lines. But it is also a tale - the story of Tatiana Metanova + Alexander Belov, two young people caught up in war, family and love. Simons hits readers with a double whammy as she brings real historical events to life and tells a story that's nearly impossible to put down unless absolutely necessary. Achievement unlocked, Ms. Simons.
The one line on the cover - "a love story" - simultaneously captures the real essence of the novel, and also barely encompasses it. Readers are given the opportunity to watch Tatiana and Alexander's relationship develop from the very beginning, from the singular moment when their paths first cross. What ensues afterwards is an incredibly long, emotional tale, rife with frustrating circumstances and beautiful moments alike. Their romance is tumultuous, reflecting the tumult of the world around them all too well. And yet, there is something appealing about the romance. I felt for these two young lovers - the intensity of their attraction, the joys and pains of their feelings, the stress of their circumstances. It was beautifully done, even though it could get impossibly frustrating sometimes.
While this novel focuses heavily on romantic love, there is another "love story" in it - the love that Tatiana has for her family. Her love for them is more than they deserve (which you will understand when you read this). Tatiana is the sacrificial lamb willing to do what she can to ensure their contentment and happiness no matter how she happens to feel. And this isn't just the case with her real family by blood; she's like this even with those people she meets who become her family. While her devotion is admirable, it also broke my heart to see her go through so much trouble for people who didn't always express the proper gratitude for it. Still, Simons paints the reality of family - a group of individuals with flaws and assets that are tied together by their given relationship - so damn well.
If there is one thing that I will remember vividly about this novel, it's the way it made me feel. Wondering why this book is so long? Here's my theory: Simons wanted to package all of the feels in the world so that readers could be subjected to the Tilt-a-Whirl effect of them. Name an emotion, any emotion, and I'm fairly certain I can report having it at some point in my read. Simons captures the real essence and intensity of joy, anger, sorrow, guilt, pain, fear, hurt, frustration, and more. This is why the book leaves such a strong impression!
Oh, the details! Simons must be a magician, for she manages to make wartime Russia come to life with carefully chosen descriptions. Each moment of the siege, on the battlefield, in the country, each reference to Russian culture and history - it all paints a beautiful, gruesome portrait of Russia. It's been a long time since I've read a novel that really made me feel immersed in the setting and culture, but this one definitely does that. And with such ease! The details are skillfully woven in so as not to overwhelm the reader, though it's a lot of information. It's like I said - Simons must know magic.
The Bronze Horseman is an epic story of love and war. Yes, it starts off a little bit slow. Yes, it's long. Yes, these characters are rage-inducing for many reasons. Yes, the situations might make you want to scream with fury. (In case it's not clear, these do happen to be my reservations.) But Simons has beautifully captured the truth of Tatiana Metanova & Alexander Belov, and all that happens to them during these years. Though it might not work for everyone, to me, it wound up being a book I couldn't read fast enough. I highly recommend giving this one a shot, and being patient with it, because I found it worth the read.