A Soviet sniper falls for a German soldier in a novel set during World War II.
Midwood’s (Of Knights and Dogfights, 2019, etc.) latest work of historical fiction opens in 1955 as doctoral candidate Andrea travels to Leningrad to interview a famous wartime sniper named Kira Miloslavskaya. What follows is Kira’s story, starting in 1939, when she goes to Lvov to work as an interpreter for Soviet troops. The temporary alliance between Germany and the U.S.S.R. paves the way for Kira to fall in love with Werner Suss, a Wehrmacht lieutenant. Successive chapters alternate between these two characters’ points of view. The first-person accounts successfully convey the bitter realities of war-torn Europe, although the use of the present tense feels odd. The lovers become engaged and talk of marrying within a year, but the 1941 German invasion of Leningrad changes everything. Kira joins a sniper division, earning the nickname “the Red Death” for her ruthlessness. Meanwhile, Werner and his company travel from Poland into the Soviet Union. He and Kira reunite several times and make love, although they resent each other for their countries’ crimes. Midwood does an admirable job of capturing the harshness of the Russian winter (“the dying afternoon of a hazy, despondent December day”) and battlefield carnage (“I killed with grisly pleasure and slept at night like a child,” Kira reports). However, her prose sometimes succumbs to adjective-heavy overwriting (“the charcoal sky pouring crystals of opalescent powder on the ravaged earth”), and, at times, there’s oddly redundant phrasing (“history faculty worker”; “decisively resolute”) and anachronistic-sounding slang (“Are you crap-heads completely off your rockers?!”). Still, the novel is atmospheric and well-plotted, if overly reliant on coincidences. There’s a pleasing Romeo and Juliet quality to the romance, as it’s unclear if these people, let alone their relationship, will survive the end of the fighting.
A convincing historical tale about love across enemy lines that’s hampered by uneven prose.