Red Shadow

Written by Paul Dowswell
Review by Geoffrey Harfield

1941. The Nazis invade Russia. Misha, our teenage hero, tells us what life is like under Stalin and the NKVD. His father is a secretary to Stalin, but the family is tragically reduced when Misha’s mother is interned for her bourgeois upbringing. Misha and his father live in a large, well-appointed apartment in the Kremlin. Misha and a bright local girl, Valya, get on well, even under totalitarianism. (At dances even the foxtrot is banned as bourgeois!)

Dowswell is good at showing the lives of young people in wartime. There’s an interesting episode where Misha becomes a teacher of English literature to factory workers. He makes a bad mistake in his choice of Shakespeare to study. A senior party official, jealous of Misha’s extra earning, condemns his choice of Richard III as a counter-revolutionary story of a king: monarchy is reviled by all true Communists.

Hitler attacks and bombing starts. Russians are told that the working classes in Germany will rise to stop the Nazis. Soon the war is right on their doorstep and, as tensions worsen, even for one of Stalin secretaries, Misha is sent to the family dacha with Valya to burn any incriminating family documents…

This is a brilliant book I can recommend to any parent as a teenager’s present. It is a fascinating education of man’s inhumanity and political misdirection. A lesson to us all, it is a very attractive book both in its size and its appropriate cover of a red flag on fire with a hammer and sickle imposed on it. Red Shadow gives an accurate flavour of Moscow at war, with radical political viewpoints and intelligent arguments.