Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review: The Little Russian by Susan Sherman

Title: The Little Russian
Author: Susan Sherman
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publish Date: January 15, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You don't mind difficult situations.

What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The Little Russian spotlights an exciting new and assured voice in historical fiction. The novel tells the story of Berta Alshonsky, who revels in childhood memories of her time spent with a wealthy family in Moscow, a life filled with salons, balls, and all the trappings of the Upper Class, very different from her current life as a grocer’s daughter in the Jewish townlet of Mosny. So when a mysterious and cultured wheat merchant walks into the grocery, Berta’s life is forever altered. She falls in love, unaware that he is a member of the Bund, The Jewish Worker’s League, smuggling arms to the shtetls to defend them against the pogroms sweeping the Little Russian countryside.

Married and established in the wheat center of Cherkast, Berta has recaptured the life she once had in Moscow. So when a smuggling operation goes awry and her husband must flee the country, Berta makes the vain and foolish choice to stay behind with her children and her finery. As Russia plunges into war, Berta eventually loses everything and must find a new way to sustain the lives and safety of her children. Filled with heart-stopping action, richly drawn characters, and a world seeped in war and violence; The Little Russian is poised to capture readers at every turn."

My Two Cents:

Since visiting Ukraine two summers ago (I went to visit a friend in the Peace Corps and on top of that, my ancestors were from there as well so my visit was really for two purposes), my affinity for reading about all things Ukrainian, Russian, and Soviet Union has really grown so I was excited to dig into this book merely because of the setting. What I found within the pages, was so much more than just a setting!

The setting itself was very intriguing. It really made me understand why my great, great grandparents left the country (interestingly enough, they probably would have been making their way to the U.S. via Canada when this book opens up). Ukraine was not the happiest place to be in the early 20th century. Sherman captures so much of the country. You can see the little stores in Mosny. You can see the fields. You feel like you're there!

Even though it took awhile, I really ended up liking the character of Berta. Berta kind of rubbed me the wrong way in the beginning. At a young age, she goes to live in glamorous Moscow with a rich family as sort of a companion for her cousin and pretty much thinks the world of herself when she comes back to her small town in Ukraine for what she thinks is just a visit back home. I didn't like how stuck up she was and how she wanted to try and pretend that she was from some place else. She marries a man who intrigues her with his mysteriousness, which proves to truly be a double edged sword, as he is engaged in some illegal activities. Fortunately (perhaps unfortunately) for Berta, she learns a little humility but only after she makes a dumb decision to stay behind in a war torn country with all of her worldly possessions (bright, she is not sometimes). But eventually she wises up and grows. I love, love, love when you can see changes in a character over time. You really feel like she is growing and maturing.

This book will be fascinating to history lovers. It focuses on what the newly formed Soviet Union was like before religion was essentially removed. Many of the characters are Jewish, a religion that was definitely villified under Soviet rule. Sherman does a great job of capturing the crazy amount of chaos that there was in this rapidly changing environment


  1. This book sounds good and I love the cover. Great review!

  2. This book sounds really interesting and I love the subtlety of the cover. Nice review!

  3. I enjoyed reading this one last year. Glad to see you felt the same. Great review!


  4. Thanks for your review. The author guest blogged at my site a few weeks ago, and I've been eager to read the book since then.

  5. This book has been on my TBR list for a few weeks now (a very short time, all things considered!) and I am really looking forward to reading it. The cover is fantastic, and I enjoyed your review. I am also very jealous that you've been to the Ukraine, as I would love to visit there someday!

    1. It is a really cool place with a lot of history. In a lot of ways, it's still grappling with the fall of the Soviet Union even though that happened over 20 years ago now. It's hard to get around if you don't speak Russian or Ukrainian, which is why I am very glad that I went to visit a friend!

  6. I just picked this up from the library! I do enjoy a good book set in Russia so I am looking forward to it!

    1. Same here! I love that more fiction books are coming out about Russia, Ukraine, and the Soviet Union.

  7. You didn't rate this but the historical details and author's interpretation sound wonderful. I love the cover.


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