Review of Paullina Simon’s Bellagrand

Bellagrand is indeed BELLA GRAND!!! This book came straight from the author’s heart. Readers will understand the less-than-stellar lead up to this heartbreaker now…

bella2

 

BELLAGRAND

Paullina Simons has returned in fine form! The love story of Alexander’s parents is continued from Children of Liberty, and is the prequel to the stunning Bronze Horseman. Nothing I could write can describe this gem of a book better than the author’s poignant words: “[This book is about] Gina, a passionate, strong, good woman, who wants nothing more than to love and to be loved. The book is about all the things that stand in her way. In this story, you will also meet Alexander, and you will witness the love that had made him and in the end that saved him, the love that offered him, years hence, the possibility of a new life. It was all borne out of Bellagrand, out of the lifelong love affair between Gina and Harry, Alexander’s mother and father.” (from author’s website)

Gina and Harry’s journey spans four decades and two continents, from the troubled industrial immigrant town of Lawrence, Massachusetts, to the blue-blood society of Boston, to South Florida where the dream of perfection is found and lost, to a new life in a dangerous, foreign land.

Bellagrand is an epic journey, a suitable prequel to the momumental love story of Alexander and Tatiana. Simons wraps up all the plot threads cleanly, but not before wringing your heart and dragging you through an emotional roller coaster ride. Bellagrand is a poignant and mature exploration of marriage and commitment, of sacrifice and consequences. It is a dark tale with rays of light that will touch you.

(from my review for The Historical Novels Review)

Paullina Simons, William Morrow, 2014, 576 pp, 9780062103239, paperback Continue reading

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You’ve got to love small presses!

I have just turned in my review for Paullina Simon’s Bellagrand. Ohhhh….it’s a heart breaker. Similar to The Bronze Horseman. Hold on to your hearts if you decide to read it, and I will post the review here after the May issue of The Historical Novels Review is published. I also reviewed The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott….not impressed.

Sarah Johnson at Reading the Past has been posting galleries of upcoming small press titles, and her latest post of international titles is fascinating. THESE are the kinds of books that readers like me are hankering for-exotic locations (to us Americans, of course) and different themes than the usual fare we see in the States. One book in particular makes me chuckle, as I’m so unused to seeing American settings from an international point of view: The Hedge by Ann McPherson, set in 17th century Hartford, Connecticut. To Canadians, Connecticut must sound exotic, but it’s hard for me to imagine, being a native New Englander, someone conceiving of Connecticut the way I view Bombay… But everyone’s home is exotic to someone somewhere else.

The settings are refreshingly diverse: Western Australia, India, Singapore, North America, Spain, and the Middle East, for example. This is the appeal of Indie historical fiction-both self-published and mainstream small press-a refreshing gust of wind from a different direction. A chance to learn something fresh, educate yourself outside of your comfort zone, and grow into a worldly, sophisticated connoisseur of words. At least that’s the lofty goal. My goal right now is a soft couch, a warm fuzzy blanket, and a cup of tea with my multicultural entertainment…

Enjoy perusing Sarah’s list, and I will be writing up a review for Liza Perat’s haunting second novel, Wolfsangel, as soon as I can finish it. So far, three books for the 2014 Historical Fiction Challenge- that puts me on the road toward being a Victorian-level reader….oh the things we book lovers do for kicks!

Review: Tatiana and Alexander by Paullina Simons

From June, 2003

This is the long-anticipated sequel to The Bronze Horseman…and very worth the wait!

T&A is rough going, though. By this I mean emotionally discomforting. Now, I was in the middle of this book when the United States went to war in Iraq, and I was hearing reports of soldiers being abducted, bringing Alexander’s POW experience to vivid life. That was when I had to put the book down and wait until the initial stages of the war were complete. How this coincidence turned my stomach! The fighting, the torture, interrogation, death, pain of separation, the unbearable suspense–and I’m not at all saying anything negative about the book itself. In fact, this is quite a compliment. That it provoked such an intense reaction,  it was REALISTIC and hard-hitting, and what a feat that is for a novel.

It was fascinating reading Alexander’s point of view: the first half of the book was Alexander reliving his childhood, recounting how he met Tatiana, and exploring his love for her and the month spent alone together at Lazarevo. Introspective and inviting, the same events were explored from quite a different point of view– the view of a volatile and tortured man. The main focus later in the novel is his experience as a POW. Harrowing and poignant, it kept me on the edge of my seat.  The story was not just Alexander’s, however–Tatiana narrowly escapes the war-torn Stalinist Soviet Union to America at the age of 18 and pregnant, believing herself a widow. How she copes in a foreign land, grieving and not knowing what to believe, and desperately grasping for hope is her narrative, just as heartbreaking and powerful as Alexander’s trials.

The story is a romantic as the first telling but not quite as perfect as its prequel. Occasionally, the plot slowed down to a snail’s pace and there was a bit too much explicit sex even for my taste! It bordered on pornographic at times, but when you think about whose point of view this comes from, it does fit. Alexander was a highly physical human being, expressing his emotions on a sexual level and this part of him came out loud and clear. I wonder if this aspect may have been the reason the a U.S. publisher waited so long to pick it up….(I ordered the book from the UK since I couldn’t wait!)

The story of these ardent lovers is, I believe, based on the lives of Simon’s grandparents. Only inspiration from real life can be this affecting, in my humble opinion. Life is stranger than fiction!

This book is fantastic at the end of it all. Not as perfectly crafted as its predecessor, it is still legions above most fiction out there today.

Tatiana and Alexander

Paullina Simons

Flamingo Press, 2003

564 pp

Review: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

From August of 2002:

I just finished The Bronze Horseman on Saturday. It was an extraordinarily powerful reading experience, and I barely know where to begin.

I identified three major elements in this powerhouse of a book: romantic, historical, and philosophical. In the romantic sense, this was a classic romantic tragedy with the anguished, tormented, and tortured male soul who is soothed by the selfless, loving, accepting female, both fighting against the harsh realities and dominating values in their lives (whether family, cultural, or personal) to find peace. To break free. And of course, you have the heart-breaking climax that drags you under with loss and unbearable sorrow. Had the book focused solely on the romantic element, I would have remained utterly captivated.

The setting–the city of Leningrad under Stalin’s brutal regime and during the horrific siege during the second world war–composed the historical elements. Horseman illustrated in depth and vivid color the claustrophobia of the average Soviet’s living conditions and elicited surges of disgust (in this reader) at the senseless murders of citizens and the rampant paranoid ideology that permeated society. These themes culminated in the tragic fate that befell Alexander’s parents, and the effect this betrayal had on the rest of his life.

The most intriguing element of this book was the philosophical issues it brought to the surface. The words “love,” “sacrifice,” and “selflessness” have been trivialized in the English language, in our materialistic and self-serving American culture–do we truly understand the profound impact of these words? Perhaps after 9/11 we might have an idea. Perhaps. But this book opened my mind for the very first time to what it IS to love, to sacrifice, and to act in a selfless manner. And it was a deep and haunting experience where I was  confronted with my own discomfort…how far would I have gone under the same circumstances…would I have been capable of these complex emotions and actions if I were put to the same tests. I like to think I would pass, but would I truly?

I am convinced that this book was born of passion for the author’s mother country, for the characters, for the elements of her life. An immigrant to America at age ten, she was born in Leningrad herself. Interestingly, she wrote her first impressive novel about a rebellious and troubled teen in Kansas–which is how I originally found her work, having spent my teen years in that unhappy place. Once I read Tully, I was hooked on Ms. Simons emotionally blunt writing, but it was not the book the author was born to write, of that I was certain. The Bronze Horseman was. To me, Horseman seemed the culmination of a life’s purpose. An epic, as poignant and thoughtful as any classic I can think of. Anna Karenina. War and Peace. Any of the great Russian dramatists.

The sequel to Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander (or The Bridge to Holy Cross as published in Australia and New Zealand, as far as I’m aware) is also brilliant, but I will save that review for another posting.

If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor. Read this book. It will astonish you.