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Review: The Lieutenant’s Lover, Harry Bingham

Misha, an aristocratic young officer in the Russian army, returns to his hometown after the Revolution to discover that everything in his life has changed.  Tonya, a nurse from a poor family, is dubious regarding the Revolution which is intended to benefit her and her family.  Unexpectedly, Misha and Tonya meet and fall in love.  Misha’s situation is so difficult, however, that he eventually is conscripted into the army and must flee Russia.  Thirty years later, both Misha and Tonya have survived the world wars, but they have suffered and changed drastically.  When they realize that they both may be in Berlin, they struggle to find one another, hoping at long last that they may be able to seize happiness.

I had this book on my shelf for 2 years and 2 months before I read it, which now seems very silly to me.  Why did I wait so long?  It was surprisingly good and entertaining.  The love story of Misha and Tonya is very nice, but the real draw of this book is the atmosphere and the history, at least for me.  Both characters spend time in concentration and labor camps, are separated from their families, and devastated by these wars.  It’s incredible how difficult it is for them and even more so that they survived; I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for people in reality.  As a result, the fictional lives of Misha and Tonya are gripping.

While the prose is merely competent, it fails to matter as the story sweeps the reader away, although it does feel awkward at certain points.  The blurb on the front of my copy says, “An epic tale of love, war, separation and hope”, which describes this story perfectly.  Each character has loved many others, has lived a life for thirty years, married another, and in general put the pieces together by themselves.  They may have been happy that way.  World War II, however, destroyed their lives yet again, and with everyone else they loved absent, they find solace only in the idea of each other; that by returning to where they started, perhaps they can rediscover joy in their lives.

Certainly the greatest asset this book has is in its characters, Misha in particular.  He is somewhat idealized, an aristocrat who is actually noble and is willing to work with his hands, but he is easy to love.  His desperate search, his creativity, and his love for all those around him make him a compelling person.  It’s easy to see why Tonya loves him; her character changes more over the course of the novel as she endures hardship after hardship.  By the end, I was rooting for them to find each other and finally be happy.

I very much enjoyed this historical novel.  I generally prefer an older setting than the 20th century, but it would be hard to go wrong with this lovely, moving work of fiction.  It isn’t going to change the world, but it is worth your time.

Amazon UK

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