The gym that I go to is not only for exercise - from time to time it also involves discussions about books or films. Two of my 'gym buddies' were recently discussing books by the Australian author, Belinda Alexandra, so I decided to read her latest novel, Sapphire Skies.
Belinda Alexandra's mother is Russian which helps to explain her interest in that country and the setting for this book. Lily is an Australian living in Russia. Her partner, Adam, had died from cancer and Lily decided to escape Sydney for a time as she readjusted to a life without Adam. After a bomb exploded in the underground railway near her work, Lily discovers that an elderly lady that she had befriended has been injured. Lily and her landlady, Oksana, look after the lady, who is reluctant to reveal her name, and her dog. Over time the secret of the elderly lady's life is revealed.
The story is told from several viewpoints. We learn of the life of the flying ace Natalya Azarov through the memories of Valentin Orlov and also from Natalya's perspective. Initially I found it difficult to become involved in the story as the first chapters jump from events in 2000 to events in the 1930s and back again and involved different stories - the discovery of a plane downed during World War II, Lily's life in Moscow and Natalya's life prior to the Second World War. Eventually the pattern of the stories become interwoven and the story of the role of female pilots during the war and the political intrigue when Stalin ruled Russia is powerfully portrayed. As Natalya's story is revealed Lily also comes to terms with the challenges in her life. Sapphire Skies is a novel but it introduces the reader to the horror of aspects of Russia's recent history. However it is also a story of survival and of love.