One of the tags on this site is “Romance That Won’t Make You Barf.” Full disclosure, right upfront: I couldn’t in good conscience use that tag for this book, even though it’s a romance novel before it is anything else. That’s because I have a feeling this book should only be read by those who enjoy the genre enough to tolerate the constant back-and-forthing that an 800-page wartime epic love story requires. If you are frustrated by lovers quarreling over silly or nonexistent issues, if you are annoyed by that hackneyed plot device in which a character holds back information from or pretends not to care for a loved one in order to protect the loved one from harm, if you are bored by a hundred pages describing varied and imaginative carnal encounters, well, this is not the book for you. The novel follows Tatiana and Alexander, star-crossed lovers who meet, tragically, just as Germany is invading their native Soviet Union in World War II.
That said, I enjoyed this book more than I expected to, which leads me to believe that perhaps the key to enjoying a romance novel is to establish low expectations ahead of time. It was recommended to me by Emily from my book club; I believe her exact words were, “I want you to read it so I can have someone to yell at about how mad it made me.” Perhaps the most intriguing endorsement I’ve ever heard! I couldn’t possibly pass up a book that inspired that vehement a reaction.
I haven’t had a chance yet to talk to Emily, or to let her yell at me about her frustrations, but I didn’t personally feel a need to yell at anyone after reading this book. Yes, the way Tatiana and Alexander fight constantly is repetitive (“What if you die?” “Or what if you die?” “I’ll die if you die!” “Oh my gosh it’s war, we’re gonna die!”). The endless stream of misfortunes strains belief, even for a novel set in wartime (“Where’s your mom?” “She died.” “What happened to your grandma?” “Died.” “Your father?” “Died.” “Your sister?” “Died. I had to slide her body into a frozen lake because it’s too cold during a Russian winter to dig graves.”). But the romantic leads have great chemistry, and Tatiana isn’t the typical shrinking violet who can’t handle herself when things get tough. It was an enjoyable diversion, an easy read, and quite smoothly written compared to many romance-focused novels. And if 800 pages of lust and longing and tragedy isn’t enough for you, there are two more books already published that make up the “Tatiana and Alexander” trilogy. As for me, I’m probably good with just the one, thanks.
Bottom line: Read this book, and I’m available by email if you need to yell at someone afterwards.