Book Nook: Red Sky at Noon, by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Simon Sebag Montefiore is one of those rare writers who excels at both fiction and non-fiction. The last time I had him on the program it was for his epic history of the Romanov dynasty. The final czar, Nicholas II, died one century ago, along with his family, at the hands of Bolshevik assassins. With this centennial year underway we talked about the Romanovs for a bit as we began our conversation about Simon's new novel "Red Sky at Noon."
The author explained that he likes to alternate his fiction projects with his non-fiction ones and that this novel is the final installment in a trilogy. The first time I interviewed Simon it was for the first book in this set so this conversation felt like a bookend in a way.
"Red Sky at Noon" takes place during the summer of 1942 over a ten day period as the Soviet Red Army was reeling after a lightning swift invasion of the U.S.S.R. by their former ally Nazi Germany. Stalin the Soviet leader was desperate to reverse the course of events. Hitler was attempting to crush the Red Army before it could regroup. The brutal siege of the city of Stalingrad would commence during the fall of 1942 and that was the place where the Soviets snatched victory away from the Germans by luring them into an encirclement. So this story takes place right at this crucial time.
This is the story of a group of condemned prisoners who have been released from the Gulag so that they can form a cavalry unit and be sent on what is essentially a suicide mission. Our protagonist is a Jewish political prisoner named Benya who finds himself suddenly mounted upon a magnificent horse and galloping across the boiling plains of Russia with a band of Cossacks who are mostly cutthroats, and all condemned men.
There are also a couple of love stories in this historical novel. There's action, intrigue, and a few stolen kisses. Montefiore's encyclopedic knowledge of Soviet history always make his novels delights to read.
The Book Nook on WYSO is presented by the Greene County Public Library with additional support from Washington-Centerville Public Library, Clark County Public Library, Dayton Metro Library, and Wright Memorial Public Library.