Authors: Simon Sebag Montefiore
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #History, #Europe, #Russia & the Former Soviet Union
If your children were forced to testify against you, what terrible secrets would they reveal?
Moscow 1945. As Stalin and his courtiers celebrate victory over Hitler, shots ring out. On a nearby bridge, a teenage boy and girl lie dead.
But this is no ordinary tragedy and these are no ordinary teenagers, but the children of Russia’s most important leaders who attend the most exclusive school in Moscow.
Is it murder? A suicide pact? Or a conspiracy against the state?
Directed by Stalin himself, an investigation begins as children are arrested and forced to testify against their friends – and their parents. This terrifying witch-hunt soon unveils illicit love affairs and family secrets in a world where the smallest mistakes can be punished with death.
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s history books are world-wide bestsellers, and are published in over 40 languages.
Catherine the Great & Potemkin
was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper, and Marsh Biography Prizes.
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
won the History Book of the Year Prize at the British Book Awards.
won the Costa Biography Award (UK), the LA Times Book Prize for Biography (USA), Le Grand Prix de la Biographie Politique (France) and the Kreisky Prize for Political Literature (Austria), and is currently being developed as a tv mini-series.
Jerusalem: The Biography
won the Jewish Book of the Year Prize (USA) and was number one bestseller in the UK. He is the presenter of the BBC TV series
Jerusalem, Making of a Holy City
Rome, History of the Eternal City.
A Visiting Professor at Buckingham University and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he lives in London with his wife, the novelist Santa Montefiore, and their two children. For more information, see:
Jerusalem: The Biography
Catherine the Great and Potemkin
Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
Titans of History
Not a soul knew about it and . . . probably no one would ever know. He was leading a double life: one was undisguised, plain for all to see and known to everyone who needed to know, full of conventional truths and conventional deception, identical to the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another which went on in secret. And by some strange, possibly fortuitous chain of circumstances, everything that was important, interesting and necessary for him, where he behaved sincerely and did not deceive himself and which was the very essence of his life – that was conducted in complete secrecy.
Anton Chekhov, ‘The Lady with the Little Dog’
Major characters are underlined; historical characters are marked with an asterisk*
The Romashkin family
Constantin Romashkin, scriptwriter and poet, married to:
Sophia ‘Mouche’ Gideonovna Zeitlin, film star
, 18, their only child
Sashenka Zeitlin, Sophia’s cousin, arrested 1939, fate unknown
The Satinov family and household
Hercules (Erakle) Satinov
, Politburo member, Central Committee Secretary, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, married to:
‘Tamriko’, Tamara Satinova, English teacher at School 801
Mariko Satinova, 6, their daughter
Satinov’s sons by an earlier marriage in Georgia:
‘Vanya’, Ivan Satinov, pilot, killed 1943
David Satinov, 23, pilot
‘George’, Georgi Satinov
Marlen Satinov, 17, School Komsomol Organizer
Colonel Losha Babanava, Comrade Satinov’s chief bodyguard
Valerian Chubin, Comrade Satinov’s aide
The Dorov family
Genrikh Dorov, Chairman, Central Control Commission, and Minister of State Control, married to:
‘Dashka’, Dr Daria Dorova
, Minister of Health, cardiologist
Sergei Dorov, 20, army officer
‘Minka’, Marina Dorova
, 18, schoolfriend of Serafima
Demian Dorov, ‘the Weasel’, 17, Organizer of Young Pioneers
‘Senka’, Semyon Dorov, ‘the Little Professor’, 10
The Blagov family
‘Nikolasha’, Nikolai Blagov
Ambassador Vadim Blagov, his father, diplomat
Ludmilla Blagova, his mother
The Shako family
Rosa Shako, 18, schoolfriend of Serafima
Marshal Boris Shako, her father, Soviet Air Force Commander
Elena Shako, her mother
The Titorenko family
Vladimir Titorenko, 17
Ivan Titorenko, his father, Minister of Aircraft Production
Irina Titorenka, his mother
The Kurbsky family
, 18, a newcomer to the school
Peter Kurbsky, his father, Enemy of the People, arrested in 1938, sentenced to twenty-five years ‘without right of correspondence’
Inessa Kurbskaya, his mother
, Director (headmistress) and history teacher
Dr Innokenty Rimm
, Deputy Director, political science/Communist morals teacher
, Russian literature teacher
Tamara Satinova, English teacher (see Satinov family above)
Apostollon Shuba, physical education teacher
Agrippina Begbulatova, assistant teacher
,* Marshal, General Secretary (Gensec) of the Communist Party, Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the Master, the Instantsiya
‘Vaska’, Vasily Josefovich Stalin,* 24, his son, air force officer, ‘Crown Prince’
Svetlana Stalina,* 19, his daughter, student
Vyacheslav Molotov,* Foreign Minister, Politburo member
Lavrenti Beria,* secret policeman, Minister of Internal Affairs (NKVD/MVD) 1938–45, Deputy Chairman of Council of Ministers, Politburo member
Georgi Malenkov,* Politburo member
Andrei Vyshinsky,* Deputy Foreign Minister
‘Sasha’, Alexander Poskrebyshev,* Stalin’s chef-de-cabinet
Vsevolod Merkulov,* Minister of State Security (MGB)
Victor Abakumov,* Chief of Military Counter-intelligence (SMERSH: Death to Spies), then Minister of State Security (MGB)
Marshal Georgi Zhukov,* Deputy Supreme Commander
Marshal Ivan Konev*
Marshal Constantin Rokossovsky*
THE SECRET POLICEMEN
Colonel Pavel Mogilchuk, investigator, Serious Cases Section MGB
General Bogdan Kobylov,* ‘the Bull’, MGB
Colonel Vladimir Komarov,* investigator, SMERSH/MGB
Colonel Mikhail Likhachev,* investigator, SMERSH/MGB
Averell Harriman,* US Ambassador to Moscow
Captain Frank Belman, diplomat, deputy military attaché, interpreter
To my parents April and Stephen and my son Sasha, the oldest and the youngest
I wish to thank the following friends and sources whose stories have helped inspire this novel with the elixir of passion and the detail of authenticity: Hugh Lunghi, Gela Charkviani, Nestan Charkviani, General Stepan Mikoyan and his daughter Aschen Mikoyan, Sergo Mikoyan, Stanislas Redens, Galina Babkova, Rachel and Marc Polonsky; and Sophie Shulman.
First: Hugh Lunghi. Hugh and I became friends while writing my books on Stalin because he translated for Churchill at some of the Big Three meetings with Stalin. He kindly told me the entire story of his Russian love affair which inspired Serafima’s story. Without him the book could not have been written.
Gela Charkviani, son of Kandide Charkviani, Stalin’s First Secretary of Georgia 1938–51, shared his elegant memoirs of élite life,
Memoirs of a Provincial Communist Prince
. Sophie Shulman kindly let me read her fascinating memoirs
, Life Journey of a Secular Humanist.
Gela Charkviani and Sophie Shulman answered my questions about their schooldays in Stalin’s Russia. General Stepan Mikoyan, air force pilot, and Sergo Mikoyan, sons of Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan, were both arrested (Sergo was fourteen) in the real Children’s Case and both talked to me about their experience, as did Stanislas Redens, Stalin’s nephew, who was also arrested.
Thanks to the Polonskys who had me to stay in Molotov’s apartment in the Granovsky building.
I am hugely grateful to my brilliant, tireless and meticulous editor and publisher, Selina Walker, and to the irrepressibly superb Georgina Capel, the best agent in town. Thanks to my parents for editing this.
Above all, thanks to my wife Santa for the supreme gifts of serene love and best friendship; and for shrewd advice on this book; and to my adored children Lily and Sasha, who have inspired the children in both my Russian novels.
Just moments after the shots, as Serafima looks at the bodies of her schoolfriends, a feathery whiteness is already frosting their blasted flesh. It is like a coating of snow, but it’s midsummer and she realizes it’s pollen. Seeds of poplar are floating, bouncing and somersaulting through the air in random manoeuvres like an invasion of tiny alien spaceships. Muscovites call this ‘summer snow’. That humid evening, Serafima struggles to breathe, struggles to see.
Later, when she gives her testimony, she wishes she had seen less, knew less. ‘These aren’t just
dead children,’ slurs one of the half-drunk policemen in charge of the scene. When these policemen inspect the IDs of the victims and their friends, their eyes blink as they try to measure the danger – and then they pass on the case as fast as they can. So it’s not the police but the Organs, the secret police, who investigate: ‘Is it murder, suicide or conspiracy?’ they will ask.