Red Sky at Noon

Pegasus. Jan. 2018. 416p. ISBN 9781681776736. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681776927. F
Focusing with romantic verve on the cavalry units deployed in the run-up to the Battle of Stalingrad, Montefiore picks up the story of Benya Golden, a lover of the titular protagonist of Sashenka. Benya was a political prisoner in the Gulag when Stalin's Order 227 created penal battalions whereby prisoners could redeem themselves by fighting for the Motherland. Benya is allowed to join a mounted unit battling on the shores of the Don River. In a febrile medley of Italian and German invaders, Cossack partisans, and Soviet defenders, Benya earns not only the respect of his criminal compatriots but also the love of an Italian nurse. In an intense counterpoint, Stalin's daughter Svetlana Stalina carries on a torrid teenage love affair in Moscow. Montefiore has legions of fans for his histories (The Romanovs), but his "Moscow Trilogy"(One Night in Winter; Sashenka) opens the floodgates to the imaginative re-creation of archival facts.
VERDICT Benya's story animates a ten-day, desperate struggle in Stalin's huge gamble against the Nazi war machine. World War II fiction aficionados will want to read this.
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