Jessica's Reviews > The Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
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Aug 05, 2010

really liked it

This isn't a perfect book by any means, but I liked it, and in the world where I rule supreme that's what counts. The Bronze Horseman is an epic love story set against the backdrop of WWII in the USSR. It's fiction, I know, but I appreciated that the novel offered a slightly different view of the war since it focused on non-Jewish Russian soldiers and civilians. For the most part I enjoyed the prose and the meandering pace of the novel (it's 800 freaking pages,yo!) because I thought Simons used the time to paint a clear picture of wartime life in Leningrad. The slow build also lent a lot of validity to Tatiana and Alexander's complicated relationship. Had it been paced any faster, I'm not sure I could have finished the story due to the damage inflicted on my vision by my constant eyeball rolling. Tatiana's feelings and decisions vacillate wildly at a frustrating clip, and this is usually the kind of thing that doesn't fly with me, but given that she's a seventeen year-old girl and that we get to actually experience the progression of her emotions and thoughts, I cut the author some slack.

However, there were a few aspects of The Bronze Horseman that stuck in my craw. Around the middle of the book there is an idyll set away from the war that felt out of place and awkward to me. This was the only point in the story where I felt the pace was far too slow and repetitive. Instead of an epic love story, I felt like I was reading a romance novel (and yeah, there's a difference)--a romance novel composed entirely of sex and...um, nothing else. One or two such scenes, I understand. But I swear there's something like thirty love making interludes set up, one right after another. It's more than a little indulgent. I think I get what the author was shooting for. No doubt she was trying to slowly build up this new sexual component of the relationship as she had done for their emotional connection, but for me that emotional connection got completely lost just when it should have been most apparent. Probably because the characters were doing so much humping and not so much talking.

In addition, there were times the relationship between the main characters struck me as unhealthy. Yes, the novel takes place in a different place and time than modern-day America, but nevertheless, I have a bit of a problem romanticizing a character who on at least one occasion throws objects in the vicinity of his beloved's head and punches a hole in the wall next to her face. Call me crazy. Now in that character's defense I will say that his feelings were completely understandable, but that does not justify a violent outburst. (In the interest of gender equality, I will also note that the heroine at one point slaps the hero across the face, which is likewise wrong and inexcusable.) I don't mind heroes with flaws--I prefer them, actually--but if it's a romance you're selling me, then all I ask is for one free of cheating, domestic abuse and bullying. Because I want to be able to love the hero, or barring that, at least like him a little bit so that I do not find myself dreaming up creative and nasty ways to fictionally torture him. Vindictive is not a good look on me.

Finally, I had issues with the simplistic characterizations throughout the novel. Aside from the main characters, there were few redeeming qualities to be found in the rest of the major players. In an 800 page book, that's just bleak. It may well be that the privations of war and the terror induced by a harsh and dictatorial regime would bring out the ugliness in people, but there was a feeling pervading the narrative that this story was bringing together the only two decent Russians in all the land. Compared to their supporting cast, Tatiana and Alexander are veritable saints--stupid, temperamental, immature saints, but still...I just found that bit difficult to swallow. They were too generous, too thoughtful, too noble when everyone they sacrificed for was so selfish, greedy and unkind. The dichotomy was too glaring to pass for realism.

In most cases these cons would ruin and overwhelm the story. But despite its flaws, the Bronze Horseman worked for me. It's melodramatic, yes, and maybe a bit basic, but overall, I found reading it to be a cathartic experience. I grew to care for Tatiana and Alexander, dumbasses that they could sometimes be, and I wanted the unflinchingly evil baddies to pay and pay dearly, regardless of my avowed distaste for unremitting dastardliness in my villains. If I wanted to put on my literary snob hat, I guess I could argue that the novel provides an intriguing example of Russian-American literature, which fuses the tragedy, philosophy and poetry of Russian tradition with the sentimentality and idealism characteristic of American bestsellers, but to be frank, I don't really care about all that. Overflowing with literary value or not, it managed to keep me engaged and turning pages, and right now I'm about to reach for the sequel. What more could I ask for?
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