Book Review for “The Diamond Eye” by Kate Quinn.
Summary: “In 1937 in the snowbound city of Kiev (now known as Kyiv), wry and bookish history student Mila Pavlichenko organizes her life around her library job and her young son–but Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and Russia sends her on a different path. Given a rifle and sent to join the fight, Mila must forge herself from studious girl to deadly sniper–a lethal hunter of Nazis known as Lady Death. When news of her three hundredth kill makes her a national heroine, Mila finds herself torn from the bloody battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America on a goodwill tour.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical; Former USSR – Ukraine (mostly), USA – Washington DC; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, WWII.
Ever since I read Quinn’s “The Huntress” I’ve said that my favorite fictional character was Nina from that novel. Well, now I’m thinking that Mila is her equal in every way, except that Mila was a real person, and Nina was a figment of Quinn’s imagination! So, yes, I do recognize the false equivalency in the title of this review, but I’m certain that had Nina been the main protagonist of her novel, that Quinn would have written her just the way she wrote Mila. And by that, I mean with a level of irreverence, mixed with unparalleled respect that completely belies the dichotomy of putting both those nouns in one sentence to describe this woman. What’s more, Quinn renders Mila quite brashly, giving her a rapier wit, and depth of extreme dedication to her mission that again seems to be a contradiction. Finally, Quinn not only recognized that this woman killed (officially) 309 soldiers in cold blood, with the steely eyed personality to achieve this, but she also gave Mila a heart that could be both gentle and passionate. Plus, she’s also a geeky nerd bookworm! Talk about your complex characters, right? So, is it any wonder that I’m in love with Mila?
Have you figured out that I’m going to be effusing all over this book yet? Well, I am, and for many very good reasons. First of all, as already mentioned, I’ve falling head over heels in love with Mila. If that wasn’t enough, Quinn’s style here is a bit different from the previous books of hers that I’ve read. As already mentioned, Quinn infused Mila’s narration of the story with a cheeky attitude that wavered between humorous and harshly ominous. Quinn also has two other narrators, one being an unnamed marksman who has been hired to kill President Roosevelt, and the other being the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The marksman’s pieces are written quite dryly in stark contrast to Mila’s story, while Eleanor Roosevelt’s pieces are written like diary entries, so there’s no problem keeping their voices separate. Furthermore, most of Mila’s stories are prefaced with types of headlines from what sound like an autobiography, where there is the official story, followed by an unofficial one.
Add to all this the perfectly timed pacing of the various events in Mila’s wartime experiences, we get a real rollercoaster of a story that has our hearts thumping and blood racing almost to the end of the book. Plus, interspersed with these wartime pieces are accounts of Mila’s 1942 trip to the US as part of a Soviet delegation. This second timeline is so close to the first one that I wouldn’t call this a dual-timeline novel, and unlike some of those, having them both really helps with the pacing, by giving us some calming breathing spaces between battles. It also shows us the sharp contrasts between Communist Soviet life together with close-ups of the war, and the (decadent capitalist) nation on the opposite side of the globe from the conflict.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the release of this book at this particular time ended up being somewhat serendipitous, considering Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine. The main reason why Mila is sent to the US is to try to convince the US President and the American public to join forces in the European front of the war, as well as send more aid to the USSR to help their fight against the Nazis and the Axis forces. Quinn didn’t know Putin would attack Ukraine when she wrote this book, but the parallels are there, and it won’t be lost on Quinn’s readers that Mila was technically Ukrainian! Zelinsky’s requests for more military and humanitarian aid, combined with his begging to call for a no-fly zone, feel very much like what Mila was trying to do on her American tour. Furthermore, how the Nazis and Axis soldiers behaved during WWII on the Russian Front horrifically mirror how Putin and his armies are behaving in Ukraine today.
Let me conclude this review by saying that while I thought she couldn’t do it, Quinn has not only met, but exceeded my expectations with this captivating novel. I totally adored Mila; I feared for her safety, laughed at her jokes and jibes, and wept at her pains and her heartbreaks. This is a book I can unconditionally recommend to anyone who wants to laugh, cry, and feel hopeful during these very trying times. If this book doesn’t deserve an unqualified five stars out of five, I don’t know what book does! Read it; you won’t regret it.
William Morrow-Harper Collins will release “The Diamond Eye” by Kate Quinn on March 29, 2022. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley.