Simon Sebag Montefiore's books seem especially revelant at the moment, whether it is his new novel, Red Sky at Noon, or his histories Jerusalem, The Romanovs and Stalin: the Court of the Red Tsar. In his novels, he writes about love in dangerous times but Russia herself is always a character. His latest, Red Sky at Noon, is set in WW2 in a Russia that will be unfamiliar to most readers: the hot grasslands of the southern steppes and much of it takes place on horseback. "I always wanted to write this story and create these characters in this special moment in history, much neglected. I've loved writing these novels because they are about forbidden love, as an act of freedom and courage, as redemption in Terror and war. But they also look at the different sorts of Love in all ordinary lives - in marriage, the passion of an affair, the deep love of children and family - how they clash and compete." Montefiore's novels are certainly set in the harshest darkest times of the 20th century. "They tell the stories of ordinary men and women with conspiracy and danger swirling around them in a world of war and fear."
Montefiore's historical knowledge gives his novels a foundation of reality. "They are set a most particular time and place, Stalin's flint-hearted Russia which I know well from my history-books. While the histories are about power and dynasty, the novels are about private life and especially the dilemmas of women in that time."
The portrait of Russia during the Thirties and Forties is meticulous while the characters of Stalin and Beria and others are eerily accurate and alive. "But the leading characters are very much fictional," Montefiore says, "and I have come to love the leading ones, almost like family." Many readers like the strong female characters. The pleasureloving Jewish writer Benya Golden and the severe reticent commissar Satinov are beloved by Montefiore's readers but he is proudest of the female characters, starting with Sashenka. "One of my favourite characters is Sashenka - brave and clever, she falls in love with the wrong man but then faces an unbearable decision how to save her children," says Montefiore. "In One Night in Winter, it is the children and especially a little boy named Senka, arrested at their school and interrogated on Stalin's orders, who can either save or destroy their own parents. But Senka's mother Dashka is another of my favourites - the darkly beautiful, intelligent woman doctor whose secret love affair is forbidden." The curvaceous, earthy, passionate Dashka is also self-contained and secretive. "One reader has even painted a portrait of Dashka and it is so good that it really does show her exactly as I imagined her, as if she is real..."
In Red Sky at Noon, as Hitler's brutal forces push across the steppes towards Stalingrad, Benya Golden starts the novel as a prisoner in the Gulag camps for a crime he hasn't committed. With the help of a criminal kingpin who runs his camp, he manages to join one of Stalin's brutal punishment battalions with a posse of criminals and Cossacks from the camps. Assigned to cavalry, trained to ride, he finds himself riding on a suicide mission and in a fight for his life in what one reviewer called "a Western on the Eastern Front"; others described it as "Stalingrad meets Lonesome Dove" and "Cormac McCarthy with Nazis and Cossacks." Unable to trust his flamboyant cutthroat companions, he adores his horse, Silver Socks who helps keep him alive. On a desperate ride to stay alive, he charges through German lines into WW2's heart of darkness, the hot steppes patrolled by marauding SS psychopaths, Russian fascist renegades, Cossack traitors, Jewish refugees, and Hitler's reluctant Italian allies. The story races along like a thriller full of twists and surprises. The history is all accurate as one would expect from Montefiore: both Stalin and Hitler are characters along with Beria and some of the most depraved monsters in the SS. At Benya's lowest ebb, he is cared for by Fabiana, an Italian nurse. "Fabiana herself," Montefiore says, "is a wonderful character like Sashenka and Dashka in the other parts of the trilogy. She is very special to me, yes a real favourite. Her brown eyes turn golden in the sun, she is an adorable, strong-willed and outspoken, an unforgetable and strong character." But she and Benya have a terrible lesson to learn in life: to face the reality that their love is their only hope for redemption but it is also doomed - or it will destroy them both. "They have to live a lifetime in just a few nights - but their short affair means so much to them both. Love as redeemer and destroyer is the theme of the book and indeed all the trilogy! But the end has a surprise for Benya..."
Red Sky at Noon is written to be read on its own. There is no need to read the other books and they can be read in any order but together they form Montefiore's Moscow Trilogy, made up of Sashenka, One Night in Winter and now Red Sky. Benya Golden and several other characters appear in all three books. "My history books are published in many languages. Now the novels too are coming out in many countries. I am very proud of them," says Montefiore, "More proud of them than anything else. Now the trilogy is complete."
Simon Sebag Montefiore's bestselling, prize-winning books are now published in 48 languages. He has won prizes for both fiction and non-fiction.
Dr Montefiore's latest history book is 'The Romanovs 1613-1918', out in paperback. 'The Romanovs' has been a bestseller in many countries across the world including UK, Spain, Brazil, Australia, and the USA, where it was on the New York Times Bestseller list for over 8 weeks...
His new novel 'Red Sky at Noon' completes the Moscow Trilogy of novels, the story of a family set in 20th Century Russia from WW1 to the Nineties, from the age of Revolution through Stalin's terror and WW2. The trilogy is made up of 'Sashenka,' 'Red Sky' and 'One Night in Winter' which won the Best Political Novel of the Year Prize in Britain and was longlisted for the Orwell Prize. Each of the novels, published in 27 languages, stands alone and can be read in any order.
'Catherine the Great + Potemkin' was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper, and Marsh Biography Prizes. 'Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar' won the History Book of the Year Prize, British Book Awards. 'Young Stalin' won LA Times Book Prize for Biography (USA), the Costa Biography Award (UK), the Kreisky Prize for Political Literature (Austria) and Le Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique (France). Both Stalin biographies were bestsellers internationally. 'Jerusalem: the Biography' won the Book of the Year Prize in the USA from Jewish Book Council and was a Sunday Times number one non-fiction bestseller in the UK. 'The Romanovs' won the Lupicaia del Terriccio Literature Prize (Italy).
He is also the author of a series of childrens' books The Royal Rabbits of London, co-written with Santa Montefiore.
A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Visiting Professor at Buckingham University, he is the presenter of several BBC tv series, Jerusalem(2011); Rome (2012) and Istanbul/Constantinople -'Byzantium: a tale of 3 cities'(2013); "Blood and Gold" Spain (2015); "Vienna: empire dynasty dream" (2016). He was educated at Harrow School and Caius College, Cambridge University where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy.
All of his books are now be developed as movies or tv dramas.
For more information: www. simonsebagmontefiore.com