Iron Curtain

A Love Story

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Pub Date 10 Feb 2022 | Archive Date 12 Mar 2022

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'A book so full of steel and compassion that it stands glitteringly apart' Rachel Cusk

'A piercingly evocative East-West love story' The Times

'Atmospheric and gloriously vivid' Guardian

Two worlds on the brink of change in a love story doomed to disaster

Milena is a Red Princess living in a Soviet Satellite state in the 1980s. She enjoys limitless luxury and limited freedom; the end of the Cold War seems unimaginable.

When she meets Jason, a confident British poet, Milena is appalled by his political naivety and his poor choice of footwear. Still, they fall into bed together, and before long Milena is secretly planning to escape to Britain.

1980s London defies her privileged expectations. The rented flat is grim and the food is disgusting but she is with the man she loves and there are no hidden cameras to record her every move. But then Milena discovers that Jason's idea of freedom hurts even more...

With sharp wit and tender precision, Vesna Goldsworthy unpicks the failures of family and state. Iron Curtain is a sly, elegant human drama that challenges the myths we tell ourselves.

'A pacy page-turner... Full of humour, pathos and poignancy' Irish Independent

'Vesna Goldsworthy's finely wrought third novel explodes into life... Potent' Spectator

'A wonderful, perfectly-pitched novel: full of delightful intrigue and wry insight about the human predicament and its unique tensions' William Boyd

'A book so full of steel and compassion that it stands glitteringly apart' Rachel Cusk

'A piercingly evocative East-West love story' The Times

'Atmospheric and gloriously vivid' Guardian

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ISBN 9781784744588
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Featured Reviews

This is an outstanding read. A young woman, the daughter of a senior government official in a communist satellite state, meets Jason, a poet visiting from England. They fall in love and in use course she finds a devious means of going to London and marrying him. The depiction of her home state is very informative and well written. The love theme which runs through the book is also beautifully explored. The book highlights the mental and physical barriers of two very different countries. The ending is sadly predictable but well worth waiting for. This book is remarkable in all kinds of ways. I strongly recommend it.

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Mylina is a 23 year old daughter of the Vice president of a communist country behind iron curtain. She is an interpreter employed by the government. She is controlled by her father and mother as to where she goes and what she does. Everything is heard and seen. She does however manage to have a love affair with Misha , the son of another high ranking official until he is sent away to the army.
She is then seconded to be the interpreter to Jason, a British poet who has been invited as a prize winner to read his book of poems. A storm causes the airport to close ensuring Jason has to stay a few days longer. He seduces her then asks her to go with him to London. She refuses but spends a few months pining for him before deciding to trying and make her way to London. A long convoluted plan is hatched.
A great story.

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In this novel, Vesna Goldsworthy takes me to two sharply contrasting worlds. The main character is Milena, daughter of a senior Communist, a Red Princess, so in her home country she has immense privilege but little freedom. This life takes up the first half of the novel, during which there are some dramatic episodes which kept me reading long after I'd intended to put the book down.

In the second half she defects to England to join poet Jason, thinking herself in love, but throughout I questioned if she truly was. She finds herself living in squalid impoverished circumstances, and still under scrutiny, just as she was at home, so life is anything but simple. There are many interesting observations on the contrasts between her two lives. For example, Jason's wealthy parent´s huge house is freezing, whilst poor people's apartment buildings in her native country benefit from state-provided heating. And she is surprised to find food in restaurants infinitely better than in people's homes, again the opposite of what she is used to.

Milena is an interesting character, quite solitary, full of uncertainty despite her bold defection. Jason, on the other hand, is charming but shallow with very little sense of responsibility. Their relationship veers between ecstatic and tense and throughout I felt that Milena deserved better!

The novel dips into culture, history and politics but is above all a love story and it is fascinating to follow its evolution through the author's fluid prose. I love books which have a clear beginning, middle and end, and this is just such a book. The ending is excellent with no loose ends left untied, but I would love to know what happens next. Once I'd finished reading, I went back to the prologue, which sums up the whole narrative beautifully!

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This is a wonderful book with a very different style of narration. Milena is so 'buttoned up' because of the continuous monitoring of every move and conversation of her life in an unnamed minor communist country that the usual style of description and conversation is muted.

When Milena acts as interpreter for a poet who has come from England to receive a prize she falls in love and follows him home where she experiences an impoverished life in London in the 1980s. She has left a life of privilege as a 'Red Princess' i.e. the daughter of an influential politician to a life of squalor but she now has a degree of freedom.

I was completely absorbed in her story, she conveyed her puzzlement at differences in her old life and her new one is so many different ways. It's an unusual book in that events which have a huge impact on her are not dwelt on, there's not a great emphasis on feelings although the whole book is about love and revenge but that's because Goldsworthy has got completely inside Milena's head. I'm reading the book as a European and am used to more discussion of feelings but this was intense and fascinating and a real insight into the communist regime.

I absolutely loved it and wish my review could better explain the beauty of the writing and the intensity of the story.

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So much more than a love story

This is terrific, and highly recommended. Goldsworthy hangs an account of the relationship between East and West, a kind of mutual suspicion and mutual fascination and misunderstanding, which has been fostered between capitalist and communist countries. Rampant individualism (West) and rampant collectivism/State Control (East) contain each other as shadows.

Set in an unnamed ‘Soviet Satellite State’, in the early 80’s Milina, privileged daughter of a high ranking hero of the Communist Party, is already a rebellious, protected young woman, part of a nihilistic, individualist group of other young people, who can escape some of the punishments which would be due to them for their rebellion, because of their privilege. She models her style as ‘The Juliette Greco of the Steppes’ The same situation, of course, exists in the West. Power and wealth mean one law for the rich, another for the poor.

A tragedy rather changes Milena’s expectations, and her status trajectory is likely to be a little lower than she might otherwise expect. She does, however, due to her knowledge of English, get assigned as a translator on a cultural project, where a romantic left leaning, louche poet from England (from a privileged background) is invited as a guest, for a showcase series of lectures. Jason Collins, layabout, handsome poet, happily an eternal student on a grant, so that he never actually needs to work, but is subsidised by state and family, won a minor poetry prize, and because of this youthful/trendy bandwagon vaguely revolutionary spoutings – though talk rather than walk – is a bit of a hit in the Russian cultural event.

He is also smitten by Milena. As she, eventually, realises Cupid struck home for her too.

No spoilers, as we are given information, right at the start of the book, which begins in 1990, the year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the relationship between Jason and Milena did not have any kind of lasting happy ending.

This is a story not just of love’s betrayal and disillusionment, but also of political and ideological disillusionment – from both sides of the Iron Curtain, and also from those who had a sense that ‘before the revolution’ to be a revolutionary was to have some kind of integrity, which totalitarianism of the left, betrayed. However: the collapse of Communism, the embracing of consumerist individualism, as seen in late stage capitalism, is not such an embraceable ideal.either.

Goldsworthy had me hooked here, first page to last. Thoroughly recommended

Thank you to Net Galley, the publisher – and, of course, the author. This was an absolutely absorbing read

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This is an excellent read; well written in a style that keeps you reading long past lights out. The story is interesting and makes one see Thatcher's England in a very different light to the normal portrayal. A love story it may be but it is not always a happy one. Highly recommended.

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Fantastic new novel from Vesna Goldsworthy about falling in and out of love, set in the mid 1980s on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The first half of the novel takes place during the last hurray of socialism in an imaginary Soviet satellite country, while the second half takes place in London. Goldsworthy’s narrator is Milena Urbanska, a ‘red princess’, daughter of an old revolutionary, the president’s right hand. On the surface, Milena’s life may be privileged but she lives in a surveillance state with very limited choices and freedom. Unmoored after an accidental death of her equally privileged ex-boyfriend, she picks a very unglamorous translating job at an agricultural institute but then gets asked to translate at a literary event where she meets Jason, a handsome, left-leaning guest poet from England. The two fall in love during the brief encounter and she eventually accepts his invitation to join him in London but her experiences there leave her questioning whether she has made the right decision.

So well-written and sharply observed, from Milena’s dissection of her family household at breakfast to the snobbery of the socialist elite (spot on) and to her first impressions of England, flying into London. There is so much I loved about this book – the characterisation of Jason and his family, how Goldsworthy handled Milena’s isolation in London and the social, political and cultural differences between East and West. I felt it deeply too, coming from what was then the same part of the world as Vesna Goldsworthy to the fabled West only a handful of years later. It felt as if Iron Curtain was written for me personally and I highlighted practically half the book to come back to. A very early but serious contender for best book of 2022.

Highly recommended. My thanks to Random House, Vintage and Netgalley for the opportunity to read Iron Curtain.

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