In 2000, Lily has left her home in Australia for a job in Moscow, where she hopes to build a new life after a personal tragedy. While she is there, a fighter aircraft missing since World War II is discovered in a forest near to Ukraine, and soon afterwards the remains of the bailed-out pilot, Natalya Azarova, are discovered by relic hunters who include Natalya’s former lover, General Valentin Orlov. Natalya had been a pin-up girl for Stalinist propaganda, but her reputation was tarnished after she was suspected of being a German spy.
Through her part-time activities in animal rescue, Lily meets a mysterious sick and elderly woman who seems to know the real truth behind Natalya’s disappearance. With the aid of friends, Lily is drawn into caring for her and at the same time begins her own inner journey to healing when she meets veterinarian Luka.
This is a fascinating tale about the Soviet female pilots dubbed the “Night Witches” by the Germans and the horrific post-war years under Stalin’s iron fist that are rarely the topic of popular fiction. In spite of what they endure, there is strength and dignity in these characters. The background research is impeccable, yet never intrusive, and the switches in points of view that can be distracting in other novels are scarcely noticed, due to the author’s skill and fine editing that keep the narrative flowing smoothly. The inclusion of the modern sub-plot in animal welfare adds an extra warm dimension.
Belinda Alexandra is the author of several novels with unconventional plot-lines and unusual settings. As with her first, White Gardenia, this has echoes of her own Russian family history within it, although it is not necessary to have read the earlier book to enjoy this one. Most highly recommended.