A book blog about Russia in English-language fiction

Tag: Ukraine

The Fall of the Russian Empire by Donald James (1982) – part one

Part two of this review is here

Towards the end of The Fall of the Russian Empire, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and all of the Central Asian republics formally break away from the Soviet Union on the same day.

And what is that date? To quote precisely, ‘then on the morning of December 21st …’.

Nine years after this novel was published, these self same republics all signed, on the same day, the Alma-Ata Protocol, which saw them join the Commonwealth of Independent States and leave the collapsing Soviet Union behind. And what was the date of that signing? December 21st 1991.

The Fall of the Russian Empire was published in 1982, when almost no analyst was imagining the imminent collapse of the global superpower that was the Soviet Union.

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Perestroika Christi by John Hands (1990)

In 1989, when Communist governments were thrown out of the power that they had usurped across Eastern Europe, the geo-political certainties of decades went with them. Almost overnight, multiple possible paths forward opened up; and fiction writers mapped them as much as did scholars, journalists and policy professionals.

John Hands’s Perestroika Christi was published in 1990. In that in-between bit during the collapse of Communism. Soviet control over the Central and East European satellite states had been lost, Germany was re-uniting —but what of the Soviet Union itself?

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Moscow 5000 by David Grant (1979)

The Moscow Olympics of 1980 presented a setting for thriller writers that was too good to miss. Especially if they timed it right and got their book in the shops ahead of the Games.

Russia in Fiction has already reviewed one such book (John Salisbury’s 1980 novel Moscow Gold). David Grant beat Salisbury to the tape, with Moscow 5000 being published in 1979.

Well, we say David Grant. In reality, Moscow 5000’s author was renowned British thriller writer Craig Thomas (1942-2011), writing under a pseudonym. And the novel’s skilfully complex plot betrays that it is not written by a novice; with four strong and interlinked story lines coming to their conclusion in the running of the men’s 5000 metres final in the XXII Olympiad in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in 1980.

From the Russia-in-fiction angle, two of these plot strands are notable; particularly so the Ukrainian nationalist one.

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)

Elegance. Charm. Intelligence. Wit. Such words inhabit the reviews of A Gentleman in Moscow. They apply as much to its central character, Count Alexander Rostov, as to the novel itself. A truly appropriate book to mark the halfway point on Russia in Fiction’s path to 100 reviews.

The central premise of A Gentleman in Moscow is original and intriguing. Count Rostov, a rich young Russian aristocrat, is arrested in Moscow in 1922 as the Communist regime —whose Red Army has just secured Bolshevik hegemony in Russia’s vicious civil war— brings its class warfare to bear on the citizens of the new Soviet state. His guilt assured by his aristocratic status, the Count is sentenced to house arrest. He must remain indefinitely in his place of abode. That place happens to be Moscow’s grandest hotel, the Metropol.

As the proceedings of Rostov’s brief trial state, ‘should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot.’

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Confessional by Jack Higgins (1985)

Jack Higgins is a successful and prolific thriller writer. Most known for his bestselling The Eagle Has Landed (1975), he is the author of over 80 novels since his first in 1959.

Somehow having never read Higgins, I picked up Confessional because I was aware of his standing, wanted to read something by him, but also wanted to feed my ‘Russia in fiction’ predilection.

And from the Russia-in-fiction perspective it was a bit of a treat to come straight in, chapter one, to the intriguing notion of the “live like it’s the West” spy school.

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