Historical fiction is always fun for me. I’m a big fan of series like Outlander because they deal so much with the past. Red Year by Jan Shapin is great for historical fiction lovers. What made this book even more fascinating for me was that I didn’t know much about China or the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Most of my education on that decade takes place in Europe and the United States.
Red Year is a fictional story about a real life journalist, Rayna Prohme (who went to the University of Illinois! That’s in my home state!), who travels to China with her husband. While there, Rayna falls in love with a Russian agent, so you know that this book is just full of intrigue. Rayna needs a job and wants to be near Mr. B – her Russian agent, Mikhail Borodin – so she travels to Moscow and tries to get into the Lenin Academy, a Soviet spy school.
I love the idea for this story and the setting is unfamiliar but in the best ways. I’m all for women traveling the world and infiltrating spy schools. But I had a lot of trouble getting through the book. I didn’t “connect” with Rayna like I wanted, but maybe that’s okay! I don’t have to feel a personal connection to every character I read – it just means I’m not reading stories about characters exactly like me! I just felt that the history, the time period, and the politics were more vibrant characters than Rayna.
I’m still interested in Rayna, however. The 1920s and the Communist Party in China and Russia are subjects that Americans (or at least, I) know little about. I look forward to reading more books set in those places.
Overall, if you like historical fiction, you’re going to like Red Year for sure. It looks like Jan Shapin has written two other books in different time periods, so I’ll definitely be checking those out.
About Red Year
• Paperback: 286 pages
• Publisher: Cambridge Books (June 4, 2017)
Can a red-haired woman from Chicago single-handedly force Joseph Stalin to back down?
China, 1927. Thirty-three year old Rayna Prohme, accompanying her left-wing journalist husband, becomes the political confidant and lover of Mikhail Borodin, the Russian commander sent to prop up a failing Chinese revolution. In a bid to continue their love affair, Rayna hatches a plan to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the Chinese revolution’s founder, to Moscow.
But Moscow does not welcome the women. Borodin shuns them. Rayna’s stipend and housing arrangements are cancelled. “Go home,” she is told. But Rayna does not want to go home to an ordinary life, to her husband and Chicago. Instead, she applies to a Soviet espionage school that soon demands she spy on Mme. Sun. The Chinese widow is, by now, in grave danger as her exit visa is blocked. Rayna must make a choice — Borodin and Russia or Mme. Sun and China.
Set in Russian and China during the 1920s, this beautifully written novel tells the story of a true American dreamer—a woman who charged into danger in search of passion, justice and some money to pay her bills. A fascinating story. –Susan Breen, author, Maggie Dove mysteries
About Jan Shapin
Jan Shapin has been writing plays and screenplays for nearly thirty years, in the last decade concentrating on fiction. Shapin has studied playwriting at Catholic University in Washington, DC, screenwriting at the Film and Television Workshop and University of Southern California, and fiction writing at a variety of locations including Barnard College’s Writers on Writing seminar, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.
Her plays have been produced in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. She has received grants from the RI Council for the Humanities and has served as a juror for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts screenplay fellowship awards. Two previous novels, A Desire Path and A Snug Life Somewhere, were published in 2012 and 2014.
She lives in North Kingstown, RI with her photographer husband. Learn more about Jan at her website, janshapin.com.