Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.
Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .
“The black earth was already baking and the sun was just rising when they mounted their horses and rode across the grasslands towards the horizon on fire . . .”
Imprisoned in the Gulags for a crime he did not commit, Benya Golden joins a penal battalion made up of Cossacks and convicts to fight the Nazis. He enrolls in the Russian cavalry, and on a hot summer day in July 1942, he and his band of brothers are sent on a suicide mission behind enemy lines—but is there a traitor among them? The only thing Benya can truly trust is his horse, Silver Socks, and that he will find no mercy in onslaught of Hitler’s troops as they push East.
Spanning ten epic days, between Benya’s war on the grasslands of southern Russia and Stalin’s intrigues in the Kremlin, between Benya’s intense affair with an Italian nurse and a romance between Stalin’s daughter and a war correspondent, this is a sweeping story of passion, bravery, and survival—where betrayal is a constant companion, death just a heartbeat away, and love, however fleeting, offers a glimmer of redemption.