Review of The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn
In Kate Quinn's newest historical fiction, she shares the story of a real World War II figure, a Russian bookworm-turned-sniper who fought the Nazis and earned the nickname Lady Death.
“Because people love war heroes…but even in my own beloved homeland, war heroes are supposed to be clean and uncomplicated. Those urging me to write my memoir will want a patriotic young woman who fought to defend her country, a heroine to root for with a story clean and simple as a full moon—and I was that young woman, but I was more. My moon had a midnight side.”
Based on a true story, The Diamond Eye is Kate Quinn's most recent historical fiction wonder. This time she tells the World War II tale of a quiet bookworm who becomes history's deadliest female sniper. (Check, check, and check!)
In 1937, history student Ludmila Pavlichenko is a young lady balancing school, the care of her young son, and the tricky business of managing her estranged, egotistical husband.
She takes shooting lessons in order to teach her son a skill his absent father might otherwise have taken on--and she finds that she's got a knack for the skill.
After Hitler's invasion of Russia and the Ukraine, Mila, along with so many others, enlists to fight alongside countrymen and -women and fight back the Nazis. Surmounting challenge after challenge, Mila ultimately becomes a sniper trainer and a lethal hunter of Nazis who earns the nickname Lady Death.
Later in the war, on a trip to America to boost support for the Russian fight against the Nazis, Mila forges an unexpected friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, another formidable woman fighting to see her causes advanced.
During her prickly visit to the United States, there's a subversive plot at hand that requires Mila to use not only all of her training, but instinct and savviness in order to survive. Her estranged husband is improbably ever-present, and he felt too easy to detest, but he serves his purpose as a foil for the loyal, caring, supportive loves of Mila's life.
Quinn shapes Mila's story by sharing scenes of love and terrible loss, as well as immersive Russian landscape descriptions. She weaves in interesting aspects of the time such as the contrast between active female roles in the Russian military and the supportive, more peripheral positions women were allowed to hold in the United States military at the time.
Each chapter is introduced by two brief, contrasting elements I really enjoyed, "the official version" (based upon Mila's propaganda-filled biography) and Mila's own "unofficial version," which lays out facts more messily in what's presented as the real story.
As always, Quinn's author's note offers fascinating background about her subject and about the choices she made in telling the story.
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For more books I've reviewed that are set in Russia, check out Bossy Russia books.