Daily Bookshot: Inspired by a Grandfather’s War Diaries

One of the top titles in my reading pile for this opening month of 2010 has got to be Bequest (Headline), the debut novel of Ukrainian-born author, Anna Shevchenko. There are two reasons why I’m excited about reading this one, and the first reason not surprisingly (given its role), is down to the novel’s cover blurb:

In Moscow, an ambitious lieutenant of the Russian Security Service stumbles across file N1247 – a case opened by the Russian secret police more than two centuries ago. Three crucial documents are missing which, if found, could change the balance of power in Europe. One country would come crashing down. A second country would never forgive the discovery, and a third would never forget.

Lieutenant Taras Petrenko is determined not to let this happen – but others believe it should. In London, young solicitor Kate is thrust into the mystery of an eighteenth-century bequest when she meets a secretive Ukrainian. He has three documents he claims could altar the lives of millions. As a dangerous race to uncover the truth becomes a harrowing journey into the shadowy side of power, what price will be paid.

So the very mention of a trio of documents whose significance is so great that their ‘bringing to light’ could altar the balance of European power is, I’m sure, enough to ‘hook’ a lot of people into reading this Soviet-flavoured thriller. But for me there’s a more compelling reason for taking up the reading of Bequest, and it’s all down to research material.

In 1992 following his death, Shevchenko received her grandfather’s war diaries, and it is these which inspired the creation of the novel. Contained within the pages of the diaries are tales of her Ukrainian historian grandfather’s suffering and persecution, together with a considerable amount of the research he completed into the history of the Cossacks. Shevchenko has apparently taken some of the diary entries – together with a number of the research findings – and woven them into the fabric of her novel.

As an historian myself such a practice fascinates me. While access to Shevchenko’s grandfather’s war diaries verbatim would have been a preferred option (provided I was clever enough to read Ukrainian in the first place of course), I love it when writers get creative with primary source material, and create something more accessible for the masses i.e. those not particularly interested in ‘vanilla’ history.

Most recently Libby Cone was triumphant in her weaving of the real-life war diaries of French artists Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, for her thesis-turned-novel War on the Margins (Duckworth), and if Shevchenko has managed to pull off the weaving of fact into fiction to the same degree with Bequest, then we’re all definitely in for a bit of a literary treat. {{1}}

Regardless, I can’t think of a better way to pay tribute to one’s ancestors than to immortalise their memory in print. For this reason alone I feel duty-bound to read Bequest. I’ll back later in the month to let you know how I got on.

Headline | January 2010 | £19.99 | HARDBACK | 346 PP | ISBN: 9780755356362

[[1]]My own afterthoughts on War on the Margins can be found HERE. I’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing Libby Cone for my Behind the Pen series. That interview can be found HERE. [[1]]

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).