Book Review: "Red Sky at Noon" by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Updated: Nov 13, 2022
When I first saw the summary of this book, I was stoked. A historical epic that touched upon some of my favorite topics, Jewish culture in Russia and Cossacks?! Plus, it reminded me a lot of my friend Tete's book in progress, "70 Fierce Years."
Admittedly, the first two chapters were great. The action and prison scenes are vivid, and Benya (the protagonist) is mostly a mystery, so we want to read more about learn about him. Unfortunately, the book fell flat after the first two chapters.
First, Benya is flat. Besides being scared of killing and death (since he's a writer), he doesn't have many defining characteristics. We only get more details about Benya's personality, way of speaking, and backstory until page 200 something (the book is approximately 400 pages long). This wasn't a good choice, in my view, because while it keeps us curious about him, we aren't invested in what happens to him. The first half of the book shows us tons of violence and action, but we can never answer the question, "Why should I care about Benya? Who is he? What kind of person is he?"
Second, Svetlana (Stalin's daughter) is more interesting than Benya as a character. I really liked how the book explored her relationship with her family and how she goes from trusting her father to realizing his flaws (and how scary he can be).