Natasha Smirnova’s life is changed irrevocably the day Hitler’s forces march into Kiev. As the city is occupied and the German troops begin their stranglehold, the Smirnova family is repeatedly torn apart; by death, by imprisonment, even by a budding romance.
Savaged Lands follows Natasha’s life as she struggles to hold her family together throughout the German occupation. She watches as the German troops march in, as they begin enforcing their new rules and the city begins to change around her. Those close to her are gradually whittled away, either due to dissent, German policy or simply by the choices they make in order to survive. The sense of potential doom hangs over her every day.
But there are lighter moments, as well. Her chance encounter with a Hungarian soldier conscripted into the German occupation swiftly blossoms into a love affair that shapes the rest of her life. The moments they manage to steal away and be together are among the lightest and most hopeful in the book.
Obviously, anything related to the Second World War is not going to be an easy read and there are moments where the full horror of what happened is hinted at. But, for the most part, things are kept at a personal level. That is traumatic enough.
Since the focus is on the Smirnova family, the emotions of the family members feature very strongly. Some withdraw and become embittered while others cling to the hope that they will be saved. As the war drags on, they find themselves changing to cope with their new reality. These emotional developments never feel forced and add an extra layer of reality to what is already a very strong story-line.
All in all, Savaged Lands is a very good novel exploring the joys of a new relationship, the horrors of surviving a Nazi occupation, the will to survive and keep believing in hope.