Chosen for Spring 2013 PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE COLLECTION for Fiction
This story of three families, Russian, Hungarian and British, is a timely reminder of the recent but half-forgotten period in which the story is set, the Cold War. Their experiences reflect the brutality, bravery, heartbreak, hope and disappointment of those days when Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain.
As a thaw in East-West relations set in following the death of Stalin, an English school teacher was able to invite a Russian boy and a Hungarian brother and sister to join him and his family for a seaside holiday. The visitors returned home just before the outbreak of the Hungarian uprising and the Suez crisis intensified the Cold War again.
Through the lives of the four children and their families, the book describes the impact of the brutal repression of the Hungarian people, during which the older boy and his mother were killed, but two younger children escaped to the West and were adopted by the British family.
As the children grew up on either side of the Iron Curtain, they were affected by world events, including the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s, the end of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Through his remarkable grandmother, the only person he can trust in a society where no one knows who is an informer, the Russian boy learns the story of their people’s sufferings after Lenin seized power and established a criminal and mendacious regime in Russia that would last most of the century.
Narrated in simple, fast-moving language, describing how events impact on the children as they grow up, the book will appeal not only to adults but to young people. A fifteen year-old boy with dyslexia was absorbed by the story and read it, twice, in thirty-six hours. He said how much it helped him to see the meaning of Hitler and the Second World War which he was studying for his exams.
John Symons has a deep, life-long interest in Russia and the Soviet Union. For nearly thirty years he has travelled widely in Eastern Europe and Russia, where he visited a former GULAG prison camp in Siberia. Described by a British Ambassador to Russia as ‘an enthusiastic Russophile’, his conversations with people persecuted or imprisoned by the Gestapo or KGB give the story the ring of truth.
‘This is a gem of a book … compellingly well-written, so absorbing it can be read at a sitting. Re-reading yields more each time, like the best music … In spare, beautiful prose – all the more moving for its under-stated elegance and all the more gripping for its striking use of Hemingway-like short sentence and punchy dialogue … His technique of using three families across generations allows full scope to the author’s immense emotional and intellectual range. Its approach and theme are worthy of comparison with Jung Chang’s … Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China … he has written what deserves to become a classic of its kind.’
Giles Mercer, Catholic Times
‘This is the history of Russia, but in a form that you will not have read it before. It is at the same time objective and intensely personal. It tells us more in a few pages than many more formal accounts manage in a whole volume … Academic writers just do not seem to achieve this perspective … A short review cannot reveal the riches of this novel: easy reading, full of insight, inspiring, and leaving one with the conviction that Russia’s renewed betrayal of its moral values can be only a passing phase.’
Michael Bourdeaux, founder of Keston Institute, Oxford, Church Times
‘A Tear in the Curtain is as beautifully written as John Symons’ previous book, Stranger on the Shore. It is an important book, not only for those who lived through the Cold War, but possibly even more for those young adults now learning about it for the first time, at school or university.’
Professor Michael Ewans, Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, author of Jancek’s Tragic Operas, Wagner and Aeschylus, and Opera from the Greek
‘I devoured A Tear in the Curtain, and absolutely loved it. It is a terrific story, and really the best history of Communism and its reality that I have ever come across. The story rings so true and is utterly believable. It is a lovely book. The author writes beautifully.’
Juliet Tucos, who worked in Moscow in the late 1950s
‘The device of the three fictional families … bring a human touch to the historical account and give shape and immediacy to the narrative. It is skilfully done … the encounters gather force and by the end of the book achieve a moving conclusion. A Tear In The Curtain should be made compulsory reading.’
William Wood – For full review click here
“The characters we encounter are engaging; we are drawn into caring about them, their thoughts, their destinies. The novel brushes with history … it captures in a brief space the last half of the last century, with all the changes that took place, all the suffering, all the blood that was shed—and the persistent shoots of hope that seemed, for a time, to endure and blossom.”
Andrew Louth, Sobornost Review
From a diplomat who served in the British Embassy in Moscow and has decades of experience of the political and personal effects of Communism:
‘I devoured A Tear in the Curtain and absolutely loved it. It is a terrific story and really the best history of Communism and its awful reality that I have come across. It is also beautifully written.’
This book is dedicated to Vladimir Bukovsky with his permission