Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell
Bloomsbury, 2014. ISBN 9781408826249.
In Red Shadow Dowswell provides the reader with an evocative account of Moscow 1941 just before and at the beginning of the German invasion.
The tale is related through the experiences of Mikhail ((Misha) Petrov. The prelude sees the arrest of his mother by the NKVD whose ominous and fearful presence pervades the story.
Misha is a clever, yet ordinary boy who despite being two years younger is in love with his best friend, Valya and it is largely through these characters they we see the story unravel. They are schoolmates and committed members of the Komsomol (Youth wing of the Communist party). Misha loves literature and after school conducts classes for the workers at the Stalin Automobile plant. Valya, on the other hand, is a science wiz who has her sights set on becoming a pilot, a real possibility for a female in Stalinist Russia.
Misha and his father live together in the Kremlin where his father works in Stalin's inner circle and consequently works long hours. Through this, the reader gains some insight into the character of Stalin or Vozhd (boss) and is direct witness to some of his idiosyncrasies which increase as the German army moves closer to Moscow.
The fear provoked by the NKVD is repeatedly illustrated by the arrests and disappearance of Misha's acquaintances. To begin with, Dowsell provides the reader with only subtle hints of violence perpetrated by this menacing group but as the story evolves the detail becomes more explicit and the reader shares the anxieties of living in a society where individuals, even at the highest level, have only a tenuous hold on personal security.
The appeal of this story lies both in its humanising of a totalitarian regime, as well as in its attention to detail and authenticity. As with all good historical fiction the reader has a sense of reading a true account. Dowsell uses Russian terms and references to real historical events to create this reality. A glossary of the terms is provided at the end of the book.
Red Shadow is a good read, especially for those who enjoy historical fiction.