Red Sky at Noon (Montefiore)

Red Sky at Noon (Moscow Trilogy, 3)
Simon Sebag Montefiore, 2018
Pegasus Books
416 pp.

The stunning new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Romanovs and Jerusalem, set during an epic cavalry ride across the hot grasslands outside Stalingrad during the darkest times of World War II.

“The black earth was already baking and the sun was just rising when they mounted their horses and rode across the grasslands towards the horizon on fire."

Imprisoned in the Gulags for a crime he did not commit, Benya Golden joins a penal battalion made up of Cossacks and convicts to fight the Nazis. He enrolls in the Russian cavalry, and on a hot summer day in July 1942, he and his band of brothers are sent on a suicide mission behind enemy lines.

But is there a traitor among them?

The only thing Benya can truly trust is his horse, Silver Socks, and that he will find no mercy in onslaught of Hitler’s troops as they push East.

Spanning ten epic days, between Benya’s war on the grasslands of southern Russia and Stalin’s intrigues in the Kremlin, between Benya’s intense affair with an Italian nurse and a romance between Stalin’s daughter and a war correspondent, this is a sweeping story of passion, bravery, and survival—where betrayal is a constant companion, death just a heartbeat away, and love, however fleeting, offers a glimmer of redemption. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 27, 1965
Where—London, England, UK
Education—B.A., Ph.D., Cambridge University
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in London, England

Simon Jonathan Sebag Montefiore is a British historian, television presenter, and award-winning author of popular history books and novels.

Early life
Montefiore, born in London is descended from a line of wealthy Sephardi Jews, originating from Morocco and Italy, who became diplomats and bankers throughout Europe. At the start of the 19th century, Simon's great-great-uncle, Sir Moses Montefiore, was an international financier who worked with the Rothschild family and who became a noted philanthropist.

His mother, Phyllis April Jaffe, comes from a Lithuanian Jewish family of scholars. Fleeing the Russian Empire in the early 20th century, her parents had bought tickets for New York City but were somebow cheated and, instead of the U.S., were dropped off in Ireland. Because of the Limerick boycott against Jews in 1904, his grandfather Henry Jaffe left the country and moved to Newcastle, England.

Simon Montefiore was educated at Ludgrove School and Harrow School. He read history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge where he received his Ph.D. He won an Exhibition to Caius College. Early on, he worked as a banker, then a foreign affairs journalist and war correspondent covering the fall of the Soviet Union.

Montefiore published his debut novel King's Parade in 1991. The Spectator called it "embarrassing" and "extremely silly." Eventually, however, he went on to write his widely acclaimed Moscow Trilogy: Sashenka (2008), One Night in Winter (2013), which won the Political Novel of the Year Prize, and Red Sky at Noon (2018).

His nonfiction work includes several well regarded histories.

  • Catherine the Great & Potemkin (2001) was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize, and the Marsh Biography Award.
  • Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003) won History Book of the Year at the 2004 British Book Awards.
  • Young Stalin (2007) won the LA Times Book Prize for Best Biography, the Costa Book Award, the Bruno Kreisky Award for Political Literature, Le Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique, and was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
  • Jerusalem: The Biography (2011) was a number one non-fiction Sunday Times bestseller and won The Book of the Year Prize from the Jewish Book Council.
  • His latest history is The Romanovs, 1613–1918 (2016).

Montefiore is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Visiting Professor of Humanities at the University of Buckingham. He lives in London with his wife, the novelist Santa Montefiore, and their two children. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retreived 1/20/2018.)

Book Reviews
Montefiore is a natural storyteller who brings his encyclopedic knowledge of Russian history to life in language that glitters. Montefiore shows that the historian seeking the truth must call upon creativity as much as upon meticulous research. Here’s hoping we get more spellbinding historical fiction from him.
Washington Post

The worthy conclusion to [the Moscow Trilogy]. The vivid interplay between a war story and a love story, and between the Kremlin and the frontline, grants the novel its momentum. Like so much historical fiction, Red Sky at Noon keeps readers turning pages not to learn the end but to better understand the individuals who brought about this end. A gripping adventure, a compelling history, and a work that adds humanity to stories we thought we already knew.
Wall Street Journal

For the sheer pleasure of being swept away in an epic tale of love and war by a master storyteller, Red Sky At Noon by Simon Sebag Montefiore had me enthralled from beginning to end. This is the final part of his Moscow trilogy—a series of compelling historical novels in the great tradition of Scott, Thackeray and Tolstoy.
Sunday Herald (UK)

The gripping final installment of The Moscow Trilogy tells of a man wrongly imprisoned in the Gulags and his fight for redemption. Meticulously researched. In this searing tale of love and war, most moving is the redemptive relationship between a soldier and a nurse that blooms amid the brutality. An homage to the author's favorite Russian writers and the Western masterpieces of Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard, such influences pervade this atmospheric tale told in the author's distinct own voice.
Observer (UK)

A gripping novel. Montefiore is brilliant at depicting brooding menace. As the penal battalions are given increasingly risky missions, it is Benya's journey on horseback that we follow behind enemy lines in the grasslands of southern Russia. An epic tale. The language is arresting. It's all beautifully done: a western on the eastern front.
Daily Telegraph (UK)

Mythic and murderous violence in Russia…there are power-drunk Nazis and Soviet traitors, including a particularly memorable villain. Written with brio & deep knowledge of its fascinating subject matter. Red Sky at Noon is a deeply satisfying page turner. There are atrocities on all sides and a smidgen of love as Benya falls for a brave Italian nurse. A subplot follows the ill-starred affair between Stalin's daughter and a Jewish writer. But Benya's struggle to keep his humanity is the memorable spine of the book.
Times (UK)

Amidst the killing and the chaos, a group of prisoners are offered a chance of redemption on a secret mission behind enemy lines on horseback. Montefiore has a keen sense of place and an eye of unexpected details. Switching between the frontline on the Russian steppes and Stalin in the Kremlin, this is an exciting and fast-paced adventure and a lament for love in dark and brutal times.
Mail on Sunday (UK)

Montefiore's skill with imagery is such that he immerses the reader in an utterly ethereal landscape, only to snap them into horror as men emerge from rippling sunflowers with "swords streaked with blood and grass," and that soft horizon is suddenly filled "squadrons of tanks like steel cockroaches." Montefiore can effortlessly meld beauty with battle. Vivid and impeccably researched.
Times Literary Supplement (UK)

(Starred review.) Montefiore’s third novel in his Moscow Trilogy.… Montefiore’s immersive portrayal of the Eastern Front makes this a gripping, convincing tale.
Publishers Weekly

Montefiore has legions of fans…, but his "Moscow Trilogy" opens the floodgates to the imaginative re-creation of archival facts.… World War II fiction aficionados will want to read this. —Barbara Conaty, Falls Church, VA
Library Journal

(Starred review.) [Montefiore's]…latest demonstrates his deftness in crafting a deeply engaging story that is only enriched by his skills as a historian and biographer. Offering historical accuracy, a fine empathy for his characters…Red Sky at Noon is brilliant on multiple levels.

A novel this ambitious could use a little more moral nuance, as the characters are either all good or (in most cases) all evil. Yet the gritty war scenes and the lovers' pursuit keep the pages turning.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Red Sky at Noon … then take off on your own:

1. Describe the conditions for prisoners in the Gulags … which are then traded for conditions at the front. Which is the more horrific—the forced labor camp or warfare?

2. How would you describe Benya's relationship with Silver Socks? How do they give one another strength?

3. What have you learned about the Cossacks: their history and their role in World War II?

4. Benya is an odd man out when it comes to his comrades in arms: he is a Jew, an intellectual, a political prisoner, and an urbanized man. What is his relationship with his fellow soldiers?

5. The novel contains two romances. How well do you think the author handles them? Do they add to the novel's poignancy … or feel cumbersome? Do they enhance the narrative … or feel extraneous? Does it make a difference in knowing that Svetlana's romance is based on real life?

6. What are your overall reactions to Red Sky at Noon? Is it a "page turner"?

7. Is it necessary to have read the first two volumes of Montefiore's trilogy to appreciate this final one? If you've read the other two—Shashenka (2008) and/or One Night in Winter (2013)—how does this final installment stack up? If you haven't read the other two, do you think you might?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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