A German market researcher in Nazi Germany and the daughter of literary dissidents employed by the NKVD in Stalin's USSR are brought face to face with the consequences of their actions.
The German, Thomas Heiselberg, gets a job for the German branch of an American advertising company. His research brings him to the attention of the Nazis, who are planning the invasion of Poland. Sasha Weissberg, whose parents have been taken away by Stalin's secret police, gets a job interrogating dissidents, some of them people she grew up listening to in her parents' salon. The novel means to investigate the vanity of believing that personal ambition can stay free of history and politics. The period is the uncertain months before the rupture of the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact, in other words a time ripe for self-delusion. But a fertile period of history does not immediately translate into compelling fiction. Both the protagonists are rather blah, the sort that history tends to describe as "functionaries." Nor does their ultimate intersection provide any dramatic impulse to a novel that is clearly serious in intent and execution but turgid.
As slogs go, this is not the siege of Leningrad. But it'll do.