One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
In Stalin-era Moscow, 1945, the war is just coming to an end. The 801 school is where Stalin's own children were educated and where many of the current country's elite have sent their own children. The poetry class is one of the teenager's favourite classes, where they learn the poems of Pushkin. The teens form the Fatal Romantics Club and decide that life is nothing without love. Playing the "Game", during the day the country celebrates victory over Hitler, two of the teens are shot and killed. Stalin directs the investigation, the Children's Case, to find out what really happen. Secrets start to come out of Moscow's most elite as the children are brought to the prison and interrogated like criminals.
This book gives a detailed look in to what life would have been like Stalin's inner circle and their families. Surprisingly, it's not that good. Stalin wanted his staff available to him at all times of the day with dinners commonly going until 6am in the morning. These men and women also always had to be on their toes to make sure that there were no slip ups. It seems that anything was possible to set off Stalin. Finally, emotion did not seem like a welcome emotion. Anything that makes us human could be seen as weakness in Stalin's eyes. I've read a few books set in Russia over the past year but this is the first during the time frame and was a nice change of pace.
The story of the Children's Case was rather shocking. Arresting 6 and 10 year olds and bringing them in for questioning seems unimaginable. We learned as much about the parents as we did the children, though at times there were some rather disjoint sections that seemed out of place when the author switched suddenly from one point of view to another. At the core of it, this is a story about love and how it can get you in trouble but fill your heart.
First Line: "Just moments after the shots, as Serafima looks at the bodies of her schoolfriends, a feathery whiteness is already frosting their blasted flesh."