08 April 2011
Book Review: Tatiana and Alexander, by Paullina Simons
But of course I did. Because I needed to know what would happen.
And of course, the ending was fairly predictable. This is a romance novel, so I shouldn't have expect anything too shocking. (I'll admit that part of me wanted Simons to surprise me in the end.) It certainly took Simons to get to that happy ending, however. This one isn't 800 pages -- thankfully -- but it clocks in close to 600. Let me point out now that's 600 pages of the hero and the heroine trying to get back to each other. Over and over again. What The Bronze Horseman offered in love scenes, Tatiana and Alexander provides in missed opportunities for escape and reunion. By the end of the story, I had lost track of just how many prison camps poor Alexander had been incarcerated in.
For a quick synopsis:
At the end of The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana has been told that Alexander is dead. She is 18 years old, pregnant, and has just managed to escape the Soviet Union and make her way to America. She tries starting a new life, but she is always haunted by the sense that her husband might still be alive. His death just didn't quite make sense to her, but then there's that pesky death certificate that she was given. She makes something of a home for herself working as a nurse in Ellis Island, always looking for a familiar face among the soldiers that pass through there. She also begins making friends in America and connecting with Alexander's family, as well as those who can assist her in finding any word about him.
Tatiana goes so far as to contact someone in the State Department (or some other confusing government agency) who takes the time to do a little digging. It turns out that the Soviet Union hasn't exactly given her up. They strongly believe that the man calling himself Alexander Belov is, in fact, the Alexander Barrington who hurled himself off a train many years before, and they also believe that Tatiana plans to request asylum in the United States. Fortunately, she had the presence of mind to use a different name when entering the U.S., so her presence hasn't registered officially. And the government agent who tells her all of this points out (off the record, of course) that she would be wise to stick with this new identity.
There is no word on Alexander, and Tatiana finally accepts that he must really be dead. Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, he isn't. (But of course...) He's not exactly in the best situation, however. The Soviets cannot prove that he's Alexander Barrington, but they're unwilling to allow him to continue as an honored Red Army officer. They put him in charge of a penal battalion -- meaning that he leads former prisoners into battle to take the brunt of the charge and leave the "real soldiers" to follow them -- and he ends up in Germany. And then he ends up in a German prison camp. And then he ends up in another German prison camp, I think. And then he ends up in a Soviet prison camp. In Germany. Confused yet? All of this moving around took some of the edge off the experience, because I was so befuddled by the details. Yes, life in a post-war prison camp was horrendous, but by the last one I almost started rolling my eyes. How much more could the man take? How much more could the reader take, for that matter?
Eventually, Tatiana receives word that Alexander might be alive. And this is enough to galvanize her into action. She leaves her young child with a friend in America and joins the Red Cross as it heads into Germany. Not surprisingly, she finds Alexander, and there is quite an escape scene. Make that several escape scenes. Even this gets dragged out a bit. I just wanted it to end, because by the time it need I already knew what was going to happen. It's like listening to some obnoxious foghorn tell a story and wanting to snap, "Just get to the point already! I could see the ending from the beginning!"
With all of that being said, I want to give Simons a little credit for one thing. To me, this book has (marginally) better writing. There's far more exposition in it, and we get a more extensive back story regarding Alexander's history and what it was like when his family moved to the Soviet Union. We understand him and his motivations more. To me, the reader needs this. There's some repetition from The Bronze Horseman, but it didn't irritate me too much. Some of the scenes managed to reveal another element about the characters, so as far as I'm concerned this is a good reason. I can't help but wonder if some of the information in Tatiana and Alexander wasn't included to counter questions leveled at Simons after the publication of the first book. There's a lot in there that raises questions, and I suspect she felt like she needed to explain some things better. Or maybe not. But all in all, there's stronger writing in this story, and I enjoyed the chance to see Alexander from a better angle.
I only recommend this one if you've read the first story and need to find out more about what happens to the characters. Apparently, there's a third book, not yet available in the U.S. I haven't yet decided if I'll read it. Reviews on Amazon don't excite me yet, and the story wraps up pretty well with Tatiana and Alexander. I've heard that there are talks for making a movie (or more than one movie). I really hope the film(s) end(s) after book two. That's where the story ends.
As a quick final note, the book Tatiana and Alexander was apparently published as The Road to Holy Cross outside the U.S. Much better title, in my opinion.
Year of publication: 2003
Number of pages: 576