Fact and Fiction

November 17, 2008
I have loved writing my novel Sashenka.  I have spent the last ten years writing history books on Russian rulers.   Each work was based on minute and colossal archival research in Russia:  first the biography of Prince Potemkin and Catherine the Great, and then two studies of Stalin: one on his life before the revolution  and the other a portrait of Stalin in power.  They were huge enterprises and I was lucky that I was able to find massive new amounts of material.  Throughout my researches, I was coming across fascinating fragments of people's lives that I was storing in my mind to use in a novel, whether it was the tragic stories of beautiful young women crushed in Stalin’s meatgrinder; or the stories of children lost in the tragedy of 20th Century Russia. I read about  the wealth and luxury of Russian families before the revolution; and I was struck on my travels by  the vision of  elegant streets in Tbilisi, in Georgia, with vine-entangled balconies. I visited the hideous borderland villages in the north Caucasus.  I spent many weeks in the strange enviroment of  the  Russian archives which are a world all of their own.  And all the while, I was encountering the new and strange world of the new Russian billionaires in Moscow.  All of these things in the end have contributed to this novel Sashenka.  

 

I don’t think of Sashenka as a historical novel though I have worked hard to ensure that the history is correct, from the cars that the characters drive and the soap they use, to the songs they sing.  I wanted to write an intimate family story about a woman and her children, in fact several generations of a Russo-Jewish family, who were rich before the Revolution. If the background is historical, the main characters are all invented and they are ones that matter. It is about love and family, betrayal and death, redemption and forgiveness, cold cruelty and reckless sensuality, wealth and poverty,  in the cruel Russia of the 20th Century. 

 

 In the end, its characters, especially the heroine Sashenka and her two children seemed totally real to me as if they really existed.  That is the joy of writing fiction.  I put my heart and soul into it and really it is the culmination of many years of thought and experience inside and outside Russia. I hope you enjoy it.

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