The story behind any war is a difficult one to tell. A Cherry Blossom in Winter by Ron Singerton takes us into not just one, but two, cultures at the turn of the last century in an attempt to show us both sides of a decisive naval conflict that would shape both countries and people for years to come.
Alexei Brusilov is a young man destined for a talented future. He is bright and courageous, lightning-quick with a saber, and longs to join the Russian Naval Academy at the turn of the 20th century. Like his father before him and many nobles of the Russian court of Tsar Nicholas II, Alexei sees his path as a military one, full of honor and discipline. Trouble always begins at home, however, as Alexei’s best friend becomes involved with Marxist revolutionaries ready to overthrow the Tsarist regime. Luckily, elements beyond his youthful control are in motion and before he can be caught for treason, Alexei will find himself in another world, another culture, and called upon to use all of his wits for the sake of love.
Ron Singerton’s book, A Cherry Blossom in Winter, is a blending of historical and romantic fiction as we follow the young Russian Alexei to Japan and his first true test of manhood. He is there to accompany his father, Count Brusilov, a man of violent temper who disdains all things Japanese. But politics are politics, and all hints are pointing to a coming war between their two countries. It could be strategically important for young naval officers to understand Japanese in the near future, but Alexei’s goals are of a more personal nature. Readers will struggle with him as he attempts to make friends and learn the language, absorbed by the beauty and culture he sees. High Society, Religion, and Honor will all have different definitions by the time Alexei unexpectedly returns home.
Yet the Moscow court and the Tsar have not been idle. A violent peasant revolution seems closer to reality all the time, as Alexei enters the Academy on the cusp of a family crisis. Everything seems to be on the verge of great, though not necessarily peaceful, change as the young man, now a brave naval cadet, attempts to finish school.
In this way, Singerton’s book does a great job in presenting this pre-war time as one of both personal and national conflict. History buffs need only go to the official record to discover the facts, the dates, and the battle locations of the Russo-Japanese war, but A Cherry Blossom in Winter works hard to make it a visceral experience. By pulling in the geopolitics of the beginning of the last century, along with developments such as the introduction of Marxist ideology, the near-collapse of Russian court nobility, anti-Jewish pogroms, the mistreatment of Russian peasants, and widespread anti-Asian sentiment, the overall effect is a slow-build to the climatic and brutal naval battle. Singerton’s use of the actual historic names for places, battle ships, and generals on both sides of the conflict also help the reader to feel right in the middle of that dangerous time. And yet the wartime reality is carefully balanced with not just one, but several love stories. Passion, whether for love or war, is keenly portrayed.
Complex in its historical scope and list of characters, A Cherry Blossom in Winter is more successful in understanding men at war than the background love stories. This book won’t be for every romance reader as the plot points issue from exceptionally visceral entanglements – however, history buffs and those who love wartime epics will devour the read. Reminiscent of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, readers will journey through an emotional landscape as dangerous as the raging battles themselves.