“When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky’s personal secretary.
Both sides seek to use Arthur to gather and relay information for their own purposes . . . and both grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from conflict with his beloved, but her Russian ties make leaving the country nearly impossible. And the more Arthur resists becoming a pawn, the more entrenched in the game he seems to become.”
My Thoughts: Marcus Sedgwick can draft one hell of a sentence. His gorgeous prose is the kind that makes you want to pause after each sentence just to savor his words, and this is something I do not normally find myself wanting to do. He can make even the most brutal of situations sound almost beautiful. Case in point, the first section of Blood Red Snow White is the story of the Russian Revolution told as a fairy tale – all the way up to the Peoples’ uprising and the imprisonment of Czar Nicholas and his family. His use of allegory lessens the impact of the brutal, cold-blooded shootings done on both sides while ensuring readers understand the two sides and the political machinations flowing around them.
After his fairy tale, Mr. Sedgwick gets to the heart of the story, following the young author Arthur Ransome as he tries to perform his job and eke out some semblance of happiness in the violent and chaotic world that is revolutionary Russia. His job as a member of the British press affords him unique access to the leaders of the Revolution and is how he meets his romantic interest. As a young writer, Ransome does not necessarily get to write from the heart for his job but rather report what he thinks his writers want to hear. Given this, it is easy to see how both sides end up thinking that he is on their side. Therein lies the crux of the conflict as he fights to prove himself a loyal British citizen without endangering his life or the life of his Russian girlfriend.
The truly fascinating part of all of this is that Arthur Ransome was a very real historical figure who did all of these things. There is an afterword in the novel that spells out how Mr. Sedgwick became interested in writing about him after learning that his file was recently declassified by the British. Upon learning this information, what once seemed like an entertaining and educational glimpse into the early spy games of what would eventually become the Cold War now seems like a fascinating story of a man who’s life was truly stranger than fiction.
This is the second novel of Mr. Sedgwick’s that I have read, and I remain thoroughly impressed by his writing style and skill. His stories are deceptively simple but underneath are a wealth of complex layers and relationships that brings heightened tension and greater depth to his story and his characters. The historical elements of Blood Red Snow White are chilling in their matter-of-factness while never losing some of that fairy tale whimsy established in the first section of the novel. Overall, it is a highly engaging, entertaining, and beautiful story of one man entangled in a web set in the midst of chaos and his efforts to free himself.