Review Blog

Nov 18 2007

Blood red snow white by Marcus Sedgwick

cover image

Orion Children's Books, London 2007
The Russian Revolution has started, people are dying of hunger, many are being killed for their loyalties to the Tsar or to Lenin, and in St Petersburg, an English journalist talks to Trotsky and the men at the British and American Embassies. He moves easily between the disparate groups, unwittingly placing himself in grave danger, unknowingly being watched by all camps. This man is, surprisingly, Arthur Ransome. Having only known about this man as the author of the Swallows and Amazon series of books published in the 1930's, I was intrigued to say the least. My interest and curiosity lasted for the whole of the book and then some.

Arthur has gone to Russia to escape a loveless marriage. He learns Russian within a few months, and writes articles for the major newspapers in Britain about the civil war, interviewing the most important people of the times. While talking to Trotsky, he meets his secretary, Evgenia, and so begins the love affair of his life, a woman he risks his life for. But through it all he seems quite innocent, and only when Lockhart from the British Embassy, asks him to meet some Latvians does he realise that Lockhart and others like him, are spies.

Sedgwick has made this story wholly engrossing, dividing it into three novellas, each adding a layer to the intrigue. Ransome was first known for his volume of Russian fairy stories, and this mythology runs through the book, starting with part one. Part two tells of his time in Russia, exposing the bloodletting which occurred, detailing Ransom's work as a go between and part three is told as a fictionalised biography, telling of Ransome's time with Evgenia and their efforts to be together. Wholly engrossing, astute readers in secondary school will revel in the details of life in such a chaotic time in European history, marvel at the innocent abroad that was Arthur Ransome, and be left with a multitude of questions to enrich their days. A stimulating, thought provoking book of the highest order.
Fran Knight

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