Book Review: The Bridge to Holy Cross by Paullina Simons

I first read this book when I was eighteen and as re-read it over these past weeks, I thought to myself ‘did I even understand this book at eighteen’? By then it definitely would have been the most mature piece of literature I’d ever read. Mostly at that age I was reading young adult fiction – Harry Potter, the Pagan Chronicles and Lord of the Rings (not young adult fiction, I know, but this was when the movies were first coming out). But The Bridge to Holy Cross stuck with me enough that I read the other two novels in the series. And last year, I decided it was time for a re-read.

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The Bronze Horsemen trilogy is the epic, tragic, dramatic love story of Tatiana and Alexander, set against the backdrop of the Soviet Union in World War II. The Bridge to Holy Cross is actually the second in the series. If you’re interested in reading it, I recommend you start with the first book, The Bronze Horsemen. The plot of the first book is actually retold in Holy Cross through flashbacks – a sweet sad reminder of what’s already happened. The difference being that the first book is told largely through Tatiana’s perspective while in Holy Cross, it’s Alexander’s perspective. Without giving away too much of the first book, it largely skims over an annoying plot point and character, so that works for me!

For a romantic novel, the two main characters are hardly ever in the same country. Nearly all their scenes are told through flashbacks. Most of the novel revolves around them adjusting to being separated through forces beyond their control. Tatiana’s fled to America thinking her husband’s dead and Alexander’s living out his life as a Soviet soldier and prisoner. Again, I don’t want to spoil the ending, but circumstances lead Tatiana to believe her husband is in fact alive and she leaves the safety of her New York home to go back to the Soviet Union to look for him.

Dramatic, yes. Tragic, at times. But the writing is exquisite – a lovely mix of long, elaborate sentences and short punchy ones that sweep you right up into the narrative. And the characters. Oh, Tatiana and Alexander. So much joy and depth and love. They are among my very favourite fictional characters. Their friendship and their chemistry make them seem more real to me than others I have read.

I have to add, their flashbacks include their honeymoon which (as most honeymoons do) includes quite a bit of sex. But, it’s between a husband and wife and very tastefully written, so I didn’t have a problem with it.

If you like epic romance, I recommend this book. If you’re not so into romance but like World War II military novels, I also recommend this one (Alexander’s chapters involve battles, interrogations, prisoner of war camps and the like). I’ve heard many things about the books being made into a movie, but nothing definitive, so we shall have to wait and see.

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