This is my idea of a horror novel

I bought it as I love Russian-y things, the freezing winter cold, or the suffocating summer heat, the cramped city living, the history and the enormity of the country that often comes through in expansive novels.

However, as  a child I found it hard to laugh at ‘Allo ‘Allo, as not only was it not that funny, but the SS officer genuinely scared me. Any kind of secret police, tales of people disappearing, or being banished, of being reported for saying something that could be taken as treasonous and *poof*, you’re gone, faster than if the Great Soprendo had bopped you on the head with his wand. I’ve been amazed at how lightly some people have taken what’s going on in Turkey, teachers, journalists, etc, dismissed from posts or taken away. Erdoğan recently praised Trump for putting journalists in their place. Yikes.

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When the state can bundle you into a car and hold you without charge, things have gone very badly wrong, and this book is set in the time of Stalin (scary) and the people in trouble in this book are just teenagers (very scary) and their parents are officially not told anything as to why their children have not come home from school (nervous-breakdown scary), and to manipulate the parents even arrest a 10-year-old and even a six-year-old and hold them in an adult prison, in PJs, sans teddy bears, for which the little one cries (emotional apocalypse).

We follow them all and meet all their families, the majority of which are high-powered military staff or celebrities, not immune from punishment as Stalin was happy to disown his own children, but a boy from  a poor background, Andrei Kurbsky is at the centre of the novel. His father was ‘disappeared’ by the government, and after years of banishment him and his mother have been allowed to return to Moscow. He is a bright boy and is allowed to attend a prestigious school, but like a horror film where you scream at a character who goes upstairs, Andrei is keen to make friends with the wrong people, the entitled children who don’t see the harm in writing dangerous things in a notebook and playing about in their secret society. Nooo! Andrei! Talk to nerds! Go straight home after school!

This is the first Simon Sebag Montefiore novel I have read (and I thought I had it bad always having to spell my name over the phone) and while the writing itself hasn’t been particularly magical, the plot and its speed, and the general feeling of a quality historical novel is all evident and as it should be.

I am terrified of authoritarian states. I’m terrified of something happening to my child and there being no on to turn to for help. This book needs a health warning, even though it was good. And so to end, something less authoritarian and scary. I predict after a couple of years of Trump rule we could well be treated to a comedy film/musical that helps the world deal with it all, especially as there’s nothing more he’d hate than to be trivialised in such a way.

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