Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell

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Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell

Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Story of a young boy living in the Kremlin during WWII and the worst of Stalin's purges. Not only historically accurate but also gripping, this is historical fiction of the high standard we have come to expect from Paul Dowswell.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1408826240

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It's Moscow in 1940. Misha's life transformed when his father was offered a job in the Kremlin by his old revolutionary comrade, Stalin. Misha's life is easier in many ways than those of his peers - he lives in a spacious and comfortable flat, and he has plenty of good food to eat.

But Russia is at war - currently allied to Hitler's Germany but about to be betrayed by them. And Stalin is both paranoid and unstable - this is the time of the purges and nobody is safe from denunciation. In fact, Misha's own mother is one of the disappeared. NKVD officers - the state secret police - came and took her away. Everyone is suspicious and afraid - Misha's father may be close to Stalin but that doesn't make either father or son safe. Misha's best friend Valya is in exactly the same position. In fact, it could be said that the closer to Stalin you are, the more danger you are in.

And then the Germans renege on their alliance with Russia and their blitzkrieg advance is headed towards Moscow. The atmosphere in the Kremlin is worse than ever. Refugees swarm into the city. Food runs short. And Misha and Valya find themselves in terrible danger...

Red Shadow is fascinating to read because it is so beautifully researched. Paul Dowswell gives an accurate picture of the wider political environment early in WWII, the inner workings of Stalin's regime and life inside the Kremlin, and also of Soviet revolutionary society - its beliefs, its structures, its education, even its artistic and cultural life. But don't think that it's a worthy book beyond all else. It isn't. It's utterly gripping. As the climate of suspicion and series of denunciations closes in on Misha and Valya, you feel a real sense of dread. Can these two children make it through all the dangers facing them? Or will the bucketloads of potential they represent be wasted in arrest and execution by the NKVD? I really was on the edge of my seat.

Few historical stories concentrate on characters who weren't on our side. And although Red Shadow takes place at a time when Britain was allied with the Soviet Union, most readers will know that the country subsequently spent a long time as a putative enemy. And so many WWII stories centre on the heroism at home: few think about the sacrifice made by the Russians as part of the Allied effort. And it was a huge sacrifice. So I liked the choice of subject for Red Shadow - it looks at the courage, patriotism and willingness to fight shown by two teenagers who love their country even though they can see the many ways in which it is wrong.

So this one comes highly recommended by me.

Other stories about living under an authoritarian regime include The Road of Bones by Anne Fine and the classic I Am David by Anne Holm. You might also look at another Paul Dowswell story about a boy living in East Berlin in the 1970s, Sektion 20.

Buy Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Red Shadow by Paul Dowswell at Amazon.com.


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