Elizabeth Schieber

“One Night in Winter” by Simon Sebag Montefiore

What happens when you cross Donna Tartt’s The Secret History with one of the scariest times in Russian history? You end up with Simon Sebag Montefiore’s One Night in Winter.

Set in Moscow shortly after Russia’s defeat of Hitler, two students are found shot dead during a celebratory parade. Investigations reveal that the children are not just any children, but those of Russia’s most influential and powerful political elite. They are also revealed to be members of a secret society dedicated to the works of Pushkin, or so it seems. One by one, students are arrested and held prisoner, questioned until they begin turn on each other and even their parents. Small, seemingly minor slips of the tongue made by children under duress have major consequences for some of the people closest to Stalin. Love affairs are uncovered, sacrifices are made, secrets revealed. Based in truth, this novel will keep you biting your nails until the very end.

One Night in Winter: A Novel by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Harper, 9780062291882, May 6, 2014)

“The Painter” by Peter Heller

I completely ravaged this novel, loved every minute of it and now consider myself a Heller groupie. The story is about a guy named Jim. He is a normal guy, a rough-around-the-edges guy, who lives in Taos with strong roots in Santa Fe. He also happens to be a fairly successful artist – successful enough that he can make a living by it. That would be layer one. Layer two involves a lot of darkness; three years of sobriety following a stint in jail, the death of a teenage daughter, uncontrollable anger. Even with some of the dark parts, Jim is someone I loved from the very first. I loved him even more when he got into a fight with a large, chaw-chewing hunter named Dell who was beating a small horse. I didn’t even mind when, a few nights later, Jim killed the guy.

What follows is the best story, the story of dealing with grief and trying to come to terms with what kind of a man you are (he always thought he was a good man, but he has done some bad things), but also the story of how all of these issues manifest in his painting. Very reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, but skewed wonderfully towards the art world.

The Painter by Peter Heller (Knopf, 9780385352093, May 6, 2014)

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

As far as blind girls go, Marie-Laure is hands down the bravest, luckiest, most incredible you will ever meet.  Most of the thanks go to her father, the keeper of keys and locks at a large Parisian Natural History museum. He refuses to let his young daughter despair when she loses her eyesight at the age of six and instead constructs tiny wooden replicas of her neighborhood so that she may learn them by her fingers and then find her way about town with her feet.  When Marie-Laure and her father are forced to flee Paris as WWII looms, they seek refuge at an estranged uncle’s house in Saint-Malo on the coast of France.

While Marie-Laure is learning her way around her temporary home with her fingers and another small model city, a young German boy named Werner is miles away, using his fingers to learn his way around a rudimentary radio he and his sister found on the streets. An understated orphan (not very Oliver Twist-ian), Werner discovers he has a skill for understanding and repairing radios – a skill that lands him in an exclusive military training school and eventually on a team of men who hunt down Resistance members broadcasting on illegal radio frequencies.

Although the paths of Marie-Laure and Werner eventually cross, All the Light We Cannot See is not necessarily a love story. Rather it is a story of good people trying to continue to be good people in the face of war. It is beautiful – every word. Fans of The Invisible Bridge, Birdsong, and Those Who Save Us will rejoice – All the Light We Cannot See is the World War II novel of the year.

Review by Elizabeth Schieber

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, May 6, 2014)