– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘Ride with the Moonlight’ blogtour, organized by The Coffee Pot Book Club.
To promote this book I have a guest post, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.
About the Author :
Rachel R. Heil is a historical fiction writer who always dreamed of being an author. After years of dreaming, she finally decided to turn this dream into a reality with her first novel, and series, Behind the Darkened Glass. Rachel is an avid history fan, primarily focused on twentieth century history and particularly World War Two-era events. In addition to her love for history, Rachel loves following the British Royal Family and traveling the world, which only opens the door to learning more about a country’s history. Rachel resides in Wisconsin.
Book Title: Leningrad: The People’s War
Series: (Leningrad, Book 1)
Author: Rachel R. Heil
Publication Date: February 5, 2021
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 326 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Leningrad, 1941. As Europe crumbles under the German war machine, the people of the Soviet Union watch. There are whispers of war but not loud enough for the civilians of Len-ingrad to notice. Instead, they keep their heads down and try to avoid the ever-watching eyes of their own oppressive government.
University student Tatiana Ivankova tries to look ahead to the future after a family tragedy that characterizes life under the brutal regime. But, when the rumors that have been circulating the country become a terrifying reality, Tatiana realizes that the greatest fear may not be the enemy but what her fellow citizens are prepared to do to each other to survive.
As his men plow through the Russian countryside, Heinrich Nottebohm is told to follow orders and ask no questions, even if such commands go against his own principles. His superiors hold over him a past event that continues to destroy him with every day that passes. But, when given the opportunity to take an act of defiance, Heinrich will jump at the chance, ignoring what the end results could be.
Leningrad: The People’s War tells the harrowing beginning of a war that forever changed the landscape of a city, told through the eyes of both sides in a tale of courage, love, and sacrifice.
Guest Post :
Leningrad is a fascinating city. Over the course of the twentieth century, the city went through three name changes, was the epicenter of the Russian Revolution, lost its designation as the capital of Russia, and was the sight of one of history’s worst sieges. Indeed, I was surprised to find very few fictional works set during this time period, in a city that had seen so much history in such a short amount of time.
While Leningrad: The People’s War is set in the first year of the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, events from the past also play a crucial role in the characters’ decisions and motivations. In addition to being the site of the October Revolution, Leningrad also had the unfortunate honor of being the place where the Great Purge began, a critical event that is touched on throughout Leningrad.
On December 1, 1934 Leningrad’s highly popular First Secretary Sergei Kirov was assassinated in his office. While Kirov’s assassin, Leonid Nikolayev, was quickly arrested, the event gave Joseph Stalin the opportunity to begin purging the country of “kulaks” and other enemies of the state, which included members of the old bourgeoisie, peasants, ethnic minorities, churchgoers, family members of earlier repression victims, and anyone with foreign connections or knowledge of a foreign language. Based on how swift and extensive the purge was, it has laid credence to the idea that Stalin arranged for the assassination of his friend so he had an excuse to implement his wave of violence. The Great Terror lasted until 1938 with approximately 40,000 people from Leningrad alone being executed for varying reasons.
By June 1941, life in Leningrad had returned to what passed as normalcy under Stalin and I wanted to depict this new normalcy in the first few chapters of Leningrad. When one typically thinks of this year in history, especially in the context of World War Two, one has images of bombings and the unimaginable fear people were facing with the German war machine being undefeated. Yet, the Soviet people didn’t have this leading up to the invasion. The atmosphere and feelings that my characters feel are based on survivors’ testimony and from what I found, very few gave Nazi Germany much thought.
Shortly before the invasion of Poland, Hitler and Stalin had signed a nonaggression pact that many Soviet people believed would prevent Hitler from invading. We do know that Stalin believed one day Hitler would invade, but that it wouldn’t happen for some time. In fact, Stalin was so confident that he allowed his top advisor in Leningrad, Andrei Zhdanov, to leave on June 19th for a six-week holiday. Stalin’s confidence had infected the whole of the country, including the people of Leningrad, a feeling I wanted to recreate in Leningrad, making the characters’ hopes and plans for the future all the more stomach turning in light of what the reader knows will eventually happen.
Stalin and Leningraders’ false confidence was decimated on June 22, 1941, when the Germans invaded. Leningrad changed overnight, transforming into a frontline city, consumed by fear and suspicion. One of the astounding facts I learned during my research was that the Soviet authorities did very little to prepare its citizens for the Germans potentially reaching Leningrad. While I was aware that the Soviet Union was vastly unprepared, I had not known that the Soviet leadership had done the bare minimum to protect Leningraders.
A prime example of this was that the government did not evacuate women, children, and the elderly until the last minute, resulting in hundreds of deaths in the months to come. Any parent who did try to get their children out of the city were viewed as traitors and even when some pressed ahead, they ended up sending their children on trains whose destinations included cities that would eventually be taken by the Germans. Frantically, Soviet authorities would attempt to evacuate these children from those cities, but ultimately faced a deadly end that their parents had tried to avoid by sending them out of Leningrad. When the Soviets did realize the Germans would reach Leningrad and started allowing for individuals to be evacuated, the process was so unorganized that many people never reached their final destination, because they were either attacked by German planes or the train was re-routed and ended up getting stuck behind enemy lines.
The biggest aspect I wanted to capture when creating Leningrad in the book was the palpable fear everyone felt. The Soviet people were used to looking over their shoulder, viewing everyone as a possible informant that could turn them into the NKVD, the secret police. But, with the added stress of war and the unknown of the future, that fear nearly broke every Leningrader left in the city. There were constant rumors being shared among citizens, some which were complete falsities and others which did have a tinge of truth to them. The situation was made worse by the fact that Leningrad’s government shared very little with their people, and if anyone did step out of line and ask questions the Party didn’t want to answer, they were hastily silenced. It was not uncommon for civilians to be executed for sharing news of another city falling to the German Army or pocketing a leaflet that German planes dropped over Leningrad.
Amazingly, I still think the Soviet authorities and Leningraders believed the city would be spared, an idea that was shattered on September 8, 1941. That day was the day the German Army completely encircled the city and they released one of their worst air attacks on Leningrad. It’s an event that plays a very critical role in Leningrad as I believe that was the day that many Leningraders began to realize the unimaginable situation they were in and it was the moment that Leningrad forever changed.
I’m fascinated by cities as they hold so many stories that are just waiting to be told. Leningrad, or Saint Petersburg as it is named now, is one of those cities that had a unique role in history and I hope Leningrad: The People’s War gets readers more interested in the city’s history and how it played into the complicated story that was the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds