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A sweeping masterwork of love and loss, secrets and survival, On the Sickle's Edge is told through the voices of three characters who lay bare their family's saga: the endearing, scrappy South-African born Lena, transported to Latvia and later trapped in the USSR; her granddaughter Darya, a true Communist whose growing disillusionment with Soviet ideology places her family at mortal risk; and Steven, a painter from Boston who inadvertently stumbles into the tangled web of his family's past. Against the roiling backdrop of twentieth-century Russia and Eastern Europe, the novel delivers equal parts historical drama, political thriller and poignant love story.
Okay, first, full disclosure: there is no way on earth that I would have finished reading On the Sickle's Edge if it weren't for the fact that I hadn't promised to review it for a TLC book tour. As it is, I wound up skipping in the second half. It's not that the book is poorly written, because it actually grabs the attention very well for an over 400-page historical novel. I've always been fascinated by the horrors of life under the USSR regime (in part because they're given far too little attention in literature due to WWII), and the actual story of this increasingly-growing Jewish family hiding in plain sight in Moscow is gripping and very meaningful for me to read. My favorite point-of-view was Lena's, because she had the most dramatic and fascinating life of all three of the main characters. Also, most of the drama Darya and Steven faced was self-inflicted; Lena was the true innocent of the story, the girl whose life was ripped away from her by the cruelty of the USSR dictatorship.
So . . . what happened? Why did I almost put On the Sickle's Edge down, and why did I finish it with a sour taste in my mouth? I think a lot of my distaste for the book boils down to the fact that it's an adult novel, and I very much prefer middle-grade and young-adult books. I forgot, in my excitement about this book's topic, that so many fictional adult books have way more graphic content than I'm used to. And I'm not talking about violence–there was that too, of course, but that was to be expected. No, I'm talking about sex. For one thing, all three characters are way to easy about it; Steven is particularly promiscuous. I could still mostly forgive the book for its characters' loose morals, excusing them away as accurate depictions of the way people in their situations behaved, but what I can't be okay with are the graphic sex scenes (including ones between distant cousins–still kind of ew!) that are sprinkled into the text. I have no desire to read content like that, so I did my best to skip over them and plow through in honor of my pledge to review the book. When the author started throwing important dialogue pieces into the middle of those scenes, though, that's when I got really frustrated and started skipping pages to just get through the book already. There's some horrible stuff in there, including several times where Darya's husband clearly rapes her, and I just don't want to read that!
Call me a baby if you want, but that's how I feel. I don't have much more to say about the book, besides the fact that it's so complex and historically significant that more liberal readers than I will probably love it. Oh, and also that Darya's husband was so evil I actually found him very unrealistic. Were there men like him in the USSR? Maybe, but it seems strange that he never showed even the slightest sign of humanity or weakness–ever.
Maybe I'm just not the right audience for this book, so maybe you will like it more than I did. If you've read the description, and what I've described doesn't turn you off, then try On the Sickle's Edge for yourself. Be sure to comment below with your thoughts once you've finished it!
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel for the purpose of participating in a TLC Book Tour.