She’s the war’s most lethal sniper. And the one they least expect…
In the snowbound city of Kiev, aspiring historian Mila Pavlichenko’s life revolves around her young son – until Hitler’s invasion of Russia changes everything. Suddenly, she and her friends must take up arms to save their country from the Fuhrer’s destruction.
Handed a rifle, Mila discovers a gift – and months of blood, sweat and tears turn the young woman into a deadly sniper: the most lethal hunter of Nazis.
Yet success is bittersweet. Mila is torn from the battlefields of the eastern front and sent to America while the war still rages. There, she finds an unexpected ally in First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and an unexpected promise of a different future.
But when an old enemy from Mila’s past joins forces with a terrifying new foe, she finds herself in the deadliest duel of her life.
The Diamond Eye is a haunting novel of heroism born of desperation, of a mother who became a soldier, of a woman who found her place in the world and changed the course of history forever.
I found this novel a compulsive and totally immersive read. So much so that if I was interrupted I would often look up in surprise to find that I wasn’t in a freezing cold trench, aching and covered with mud. Kate Quinn really gives us a vivid picture of WW2 in Russia, a front of the war I knew little about. In Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Quinn has a complex heroine, but she creates a nuanced, three dimensional woman, who is so much more than her nickname of Lady Death. I’d imagined a rather joyless, dour individual who was strong and almost masculine. However, instead I was shown a rather diminutive figure, with dark eyes and her long hair hacked off for practicality. This is the soldier. A woman with so much self-discipline she put me to shame, not only working on her university dissertation and looking after her son, while taking a year long marksmanship course so she could be the one to teach her son to shoot. However, when war breaks out Milla feels she must leave her beloved Ukraine and sign up for frontline duty. I loved the way the novel brought up the issues of womanhood in Russia, both Mila and her friend Lena are shocked by how few women were signed up. It never occurred to Mila to let men fight for her, she had the ability and as she mentions on her visit to Washington – Russian women are equal as human beings. I loved how Quinn focused on her vulnerability as much as her strength and the fact she’s only fighting out of necessity; she doesn’t revel in her 309 kills. She is a cultured woman, often enjoying the ballet and opera in Odessa before the war and very proud of her student status – her half written dissertation being the only personal thing she takes with her to the front.
I felt that the book wore it’s extensive research lightly. The story was grounded within the history, but doesn’t lecture or give huge amounts of exposition. This is a personal story about one woman’s war, within that larger history. Battles are mentioned and ground is won or lost, but it’s the character we focus one and those around her. I loved her relationship with Kostia, her shadow and fellow sniper, who keeps her warm on night long stake-outs by letting her lie along his back for body heat. He is of Siberian/Irish heritage, taciturn and serious, but when he finds his childhood friend Lyonya they are soon laughing and wrestling like a pair of ten year olds. Mila relationship with Lyonya was beautiful and probably the only mutual and equal romantic relationship she’d had to that point. Their story broke my heart, but it also broke for Kostia too. The detail is brutal, shrapnel injuries are described in raw, bloody ways because it’s necessary to show the dangers our characters are in. These terrible injuries also provide a contrast to the swift, clinical and clean kills carried out by Mila and Kostia. There are times where I thought their victims were the lucky ones. Mila’s ex-husband is written so well, because he infuriated me. Always with an eye on the main chance, Alexei is a brilliant surgeon and a shitty husband. Having seduced Mila at 15 years old, he then womanised his way to the divorce courts and has no intention of building a proper relationship with his son. His teasing and little digs at Mila felt like the tip of the iceberg to me and I wondered how manipulative and emotionally abusive he had been within the marriage.
The book is structured with Mila’s time fighting in Russia, sandwiched with chapters that show the delegation of students, including Mila, visiting Washington to elicit US support to open a second front in the war. Inbetween are excerpts from Mila’s diary (official and personal), Eleanor Roosevelt’s diary and notes written for her husband Franklin. There’s a humour in these scenes I enjoyed immensely, especially when Americans underestimate Mila, in her ability to understand them and her talent for sarcasm. These parts made me smile and I also loved the section where Eleanor Roosevelt drives Mila to an event personally, and navigates the streets of Washington like a racing driver! These later chapters are also tense as Mila has to learn to cope with the media, weird marriage proposals and threatening notes posted under her bedroom door by someone travelling with the delegation. The question of who they are and what they’re up to kept me alert and wary of everyone. What Quinn does so breathtakingly well is to breathe life into this woman, who I’d never heard of two weeks ago. She made me care about her and want to investigate her story more. She takes Russia’s poster girl and makes her human, a complex woman with courage, hopes and desires. She shows us that all Mila really wanted from life was to be a history professor, but war got in the way.
Meet The Author
Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia.