Sunday, 8 November 2009

Two women of history

Recent reading has included Simon Montefiore's novel Sashenka, followed by Larissa Juliet Taylor's The Virgin Warrior, a biography of Joan of Arc. Both are lives of women set in historic times, although one is fiction, the other an academic history. I've read some novels by Santa Montefiore, who is Simon Montefiore's wife, so picked up Sashenka with a certain amount of curiosity, especially since the author is best known as an historian. Sashenka is set in Russia, and follows the fortunes of Alexandra Zeitlin, the Sashenka of the title, and her family through the devastating period of the Russian Revolution and the Stalinist purges of the 1930's.
The story does give a good insight into what happened to fairly ordinary Russians during this period, and how families were split up and destroyed by events and sometimes the whim of those in control unknown to them.
The final section is set in the post-Communist period, so brings the historical and family record up-to-date, so to speak. As a fan of the historical novel, this was a good example of the genre, a good page-turning read, though not without its faults.
The story of Joan of Arc, the Virgin Warrior, is a fascinating tale of a young girl who, known as the Maid of France, led the French forces into several victories against the occupying English towards the end of the Hundred Years War This is a well researched book, but written in very accessible language for the general reader, and an exellent introduction to the real Joan of Arc. I remember being taken to see the place where she was burnt in Rouen, when on an exchange visit while still at school, and we recently stayed overnight at Beaugency, on the Loire, where the hotel was almost next door to the remains of the chateau where the English were defeated in 1429. This is a useful book giving an understanding of Joan's position in both French and English history, as well as a clear description of the ending of the Hundred Years war.

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