Monday, May 28, 2012
Author: Paullina Simons
Series: Tatiana and Alexander #1
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: HarperTorch, 2002
Read for: New Adult Challenge, Chunkster Challenge
Tatiana meets Alexander the day Hitler invades Russia, and both events shape their lives in an unimaginable way. Alexander is a soldier in the Red Army with a hidden past; Tatiana is the lowest member of her family, constantly sacrificing to help everyone but herself. As the war progresses, they fall in love, but the obstacles to their happiness seem unsurmountable.
The Bronze Horseman was unlike any book I have read before. The Russian culture, which is very familiar with me, combined with the absolute misery and hardship endured by the characters, topped by their fierce and at times torturous love, made The Bronze Horseman a difficult but deep and rewarding read.
The most powerful part of the story was, for me, the depth of Tatiana and Alexander's love, a roller-coaster that resulted in emotions that were negative and positive but always strong. Tatiana and Alexander find themselves in many sticky situations with their relationship that seem unescapable. Both Tatiana's family and Alexander's closest "friend" (if friend he can be called) pose strong opposition to their happiness, and in trying to circumvent these difficulties, the two star-crossed lovers tend to make matters even more complicated than before. I had a few shake-the-book-and-yell-at-it moments. However, at the same time, there are many scenes of unbelievable sacrifice and love. I'll try and be vague to avoid a spoiler -- this event does occur later in the story but doesn't reveal any outcomes, so I'll share it. The most powerful scene to me is one in which Alexander has been severely wounded and has lost immense amounts of blood. To save his life, Tatiana attaches herself to him by an IV and drains her arterial blood -- aka the blood that has yet to bring oxygen to her tissues -- straight into his body. That is an image I won't soon forget.
Another element that made The Bronze Horseman a gripping read for me was the absolute poverty and suffering encountered by the characters. I have read many books that discuss tragic situations, but The Bronze Horseman's level of detail left me feeling as if my own body was slowly starving, as if my own limbs were turning blue with cold. When Germany invaded Russia in World War II, they laid a siege on Leningrad and there was virtually no food, no heat, no way of sustaining life. The book describes people falling dead in the streets as they walked to get the small amount of food rationed to them. Not only was I feeling more strongly and more connectedly with a tragedy of history than ever before, it was all new to me; I knew nothing of Russia's suffering in World War II.
In fact, I knew next to nothing about Russia at all. And while I still know very little, it was interesting to be exposed to the culture in The Bronze Horseman. It was fascinating to hear first-hand how a Communist family lived. I also loved and was simultaneously confused by the complex hierarchy of nicknames, the use of which seem to confer certain meanings on different situations. Tatiana had at least four, two of which got her in trouble more than once.
I was a little jarred at times by the writing in The Bronze Horseman. Paullina Simons uses italics frequently, as well as short, blunt little sentences that sound somehow immature. However, at the same time, her imagery was able to inspire powerful emotions and visceral reactions to the tragedies and joys described. I wouldn't say necessarily that I didn't like the writing, but at times it distracted me from the story.
The Bronze Horseman is not a comfortable book to read, but it is still one that I cannot erase from my mind. I am looking forward to the remaining two books in the trilogy.
Warnings: There are some graphic sexual scenes that are pretty much clustered together. I just skipped several pages until they were over, but be warned that they were uncomfortable to me to the point of not reading them. There are also instances of soldier profanity and extreme thematic elements (starvation, bodies in the street, war violence).