World War II is about to end when the world's three most powerful men gather at Yalta in the Soviet Crimea: an idealistic and exhausted Franklin Roosevelt, a dyspeptic and feisty Winston Churchill and a brutal Joseph Stalin. Once proud allies, they will lie and cheat and deceive each other. And, while doing so, they will change both the map of Europe and its destiny.It's hard to tell from the number of reviews that I have been posting, but I am actually reading. In the last week or so I have read two books by Michael Dobbs about Winston Churchill. The first was Never Surrender (the second book in the Winston Churchill series) and then pretty much straight after I finished that book I read this one, which is the fourth book in the series. I really can't stand reading series out of order, but once I had finished this one it was off to the library to pick up the first book in the series so that I can finish it off!
In this riveting historical novel, you become a fly on the wall of history. For those fatal eight days at Yalta, you are privy to the heart and mind of England's prime minister, who hopes he has enough strength to negotiate with the Russian dictator and enough whiskey to last the week. Carrying the burden of history, he becomes Europe's conscience, when, to save the peace agreed to at Yalta, he must decide whether or not to commit a devastating act of betrayal.
The author follows a similar set up as he did in Never Surrender - taking a short period of time and examining the events, and then interweaving those historical events with the events taking place in the life of a fictional character.
In this case, the event that is being focused on is the Yalta Conference that was held between 4 and 11 February 1945 in the Crimea. The conference was a meeting between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill where decisions were made that affected the fate of millions of lives across Europe, and influenced the political landscape for many, many years.
The three most powerful world leaders are portrayed as all being very much concerned with their own agendas - for the ailing Roosevelt his main objective is to get the United Nations up and running, for Churchill it is try and prevent the march of communism across all of Europe and for Stalin it is gain as much land as he possibly can.
There are secret meetings, lavish and drunken dinners, spying on each other, and grand showmanship as each of the leaders tries to meet their own goals, and at times, it seems as though those ideals are worth a great deal more than the lives of the people that will be affected.
Churchill is also aware that the British star is fading a little, in terms of power and prestige in the eyes of the world. Whilst they can hold their head up in terms of their actions in World War II, in hindsight, it is clear that the seeds were being planted for the Cold War where the US and the Soviet Union were the super powers.
The fictional character is a young Polish man, who is trying to escape from the Soviet Union where a man can get arrested for no real reason at all. He has taken on a dead man's identity, and as we see him try to find a new life in the west, we are also privy to the events that are taking place in Poland, as firstly the German Army leaves the war devastated country and as the Soviet 'liberators' move in to take their place. Let's just say that neither army appears to have treated the locals particularly well.
Where this book did lose a little focus in my opinion was in the very beginning and very end where the novel moved forward in setting approximately twenty years, and Churchill, now a very old man, is taking a cruise in the Mediterranean and meets a ghost from the past. Whilst the initial drama is provided through a Churchill family argument, this initial theme seemed to get lost somewhat through the rest of the book. Maybe it was a carry on from the events in the third book. I guess I will only tell when I get around to reading the third book.
Once again this was another very interesting read, featuring some of the most famous historical figures from WWII, an era that I already find fascinating.
Sourcebooks are about to rerelease this book in the US. Thanks to them for the review copy.
Cross posted at Historical Tapestry.