Davinsky Labour Camp, Siberia, 1933: Sofia Morozova knows she has to escape. All that sustains her through the bitter cold, and hard labour are the stories told by her friend Anna, beguiling tales of a charmed upbringing in Petrograd - and of Anna's fervent love for a passionate revolutionary, Vasily. So when Anna falls gravely ill, Sofia makes a promise to escape the camp and find Vasily. But Russia, gripped by the iron fist of Communism, is no longer the country of her friend's childhood. Sofia's perilous search takes her from industrial factories to remote villages, where she discovers a web of secrecy and lies - and an overwhelming love that threatens her promise to Anna. But time is running out. And time, Sofia knows, is something neither she nor Anna has.Just over a year ago I read Kate Furnivall's first book, The Russian Concubine, and totally enjoyed it. When I heard that the author had a new book out I was hoping for a sequel to that book. I didn't get it, although it is coming this year, but having now read this book, I am not all that disappointed.
Where The Russian Concubine featured Russian characters who lived in China during the turbulent 1920's, this book is set in Russia itself. Now I love reading anything set in Russia, but this is the first time I remember reading anything set during the Soviet era of the 1930s, where the populace is ruled by fear of being arrested for the slightest misdemeanours or connections, and sent to the prison camps often never to return.
Our main character Sofia has been thrown into the prison camps of Siberia. It is there that she meets Anna, a young woman who has also been imprisoned due to her connections with the aristocracy. Each day the women have to perform back breaking manual labour, getting by any way they can. Sofia realises that her friend cannot take much more of this, so is determined to escape and find Anna's childhood friend Vasily. Whilst Anna is terrified for Sofia's safety, she also believes that Vasily will help her if he can.
Sofia finds her way to the village where they believe Vasily is now living, only to be drawn into the collective farming environment where the state determines that absurdly high quotas must be reached, and that no one, no matter how starving they are, gets to keep anything for themselves. She finds herself drawn both into the town and to the people of the town, but she knows that ultimately her aim must be to get back and save Anna, if she is still alive.
There Sofia meets Mikael, a prominent man, who is raising his son alone. As Sofia must take on a new identity and avoid the attention of the authorities, others within the village wrestle with the distinction between duty to each other and duty to the Motherland, with potentially disastrous consequences for all of them.
There are lots of events in this book that are highly improbable, but such is Furnivall's story telling skill, that it doesn't matter all that much. If you want a book filled with high drama with romantic and some minor paranormal elements , and that will keep you reading until the wee hours of the morning, then this may well be a book that you will enjoy.
If I had to choose between this book and The Russian Concubine for a first time Furnivall reader then the latter would win, but this is still a very enjoyable read, about a time and place that I haven't read much about.
**** Please note that in some countries around the world, this book is published under the title The Red Scarf.****
Rating: 4 out of 5