The Bridge to Holy Cross

If you haven’t read my emotional wreck of a review for The Bronze Horseman, I suggest you go there first. Because, even though I said I needed time to recover after reading the first one, a month later and I just finished the second novel, The Bridge to Holy Cross. I feel tired. 

Again, another long story from Paullina Simons, with so many different things going on. Not only does it cover the time after we left the characters at the end of the first book, but we have constant flashbacks to their lives growing up. So many different stories. 

So many digressions on faith, religion, grieving, and sexual desires. So many digressions on how long they should be expected to remain faithful to their spouse in a time of war, in a time of uncertainty, and a time when Tatiana thought her husband to be (probably, most likely) dead. 

The baby that Tatiana gives birth to, upon reaching Ellis Island at the end of the first/beginning of the second book, is 3 years old by the end of the book. The reader is expected to take in so many different stories, so much information, but Anthony’s growing up is not one of them. Sure, he’s present for most of it. But then suddenly he’s talking and there’s no mention of him actually being a growing baby or child. 

Tatiana is living in New York City, still believing the lie that her husband, Alexander, is dead in the Soviet Union. She is a nurse on Ellis Island, patching up injured soldiers. She stumbles through daily life with her son Anthony by her side, dreaming of Lazarevo, where she once spent a month with her new husband. Tatiana is discontent with her new life, despite all the luxuries she continues to be astounded by; renting an apartment which allows her to have her own room, the constant supply of good food, and bacon. She contemplates suicide, as she struggles to find a way to continue her life without her lost soldier. Then she grasps at the very faint bits of evidence that suggest Alexander is still alive. And she acts.

Alexander is captured and interrogated by the NKPD. They accuse him of being a Mr Alexander Barrington, an American who once escaped a train on the way to a forced labour camp. They were right, but he vehemently denies it, and kills one of the secret police members as he is interrogating him in his cell. He injects the man with a lethal dose of morphine, and somehow Simons writes it so that we think his actions are more than justified. He actually goes on to kill a lot of other men, and not only in battle. 

Alexander is sent to command a penal battalion, pushing his small group of unwanted, criminal men into Germany, experiencing many casualties in the battalion, and losing part of his sanity along the way. 

Again, Simons shows how small the world can coincidentally be, when Alexander is sneaking into a German camp, and who should be commanding it, but Tatiana’s brother. Pasha was assumed dead since the beginning of the first book, but I thought it was too sketchy, so I wasn’t surprised that he was still alive. Although, I was surprised he was fighting on the German side, and that against all odds, Alexander happened to find him during battle.

Alexander and Pasha end up surrendering themselves to the Germans, and after attempting to escape from their prison, Pasha dies. It’s way more painful for Alexander (and Tatiana, later when Alexander tells her about it), than if he was just dead from when they thought he was. Once the war is over, Alexander ends up being held in several concentration camps the Germans had built, as he had committed a crime against the Soviet Union by surrendering. Stalin had made it illegal to surrender during the war, and the guilty were to be persecuted. So he ends up trying to escape seventeen times before Tatiana finds him, beaten and bloodied in the prison cells of one of the camps. But she does as Tatiana always does; patches him up, and proves that it’s not always the damsel that is in distress.

Their being united after years apart is not as satisfying or positive as one would hope. Even though they had both managed to be faithful to one another, something seems to have changed in their relationship. I would argue that both of them have changed beyond the person their spouse fell in love with.

They make it back to the part of Berlin that is occupied by Americans (killing many NKPD officers after them along the way), and convince the Americans that Alexander is in fact the person that he spent the better half of the book pretending not to be, and could they please go back to America now? And then they do. 

I was kind of dilly-dallying with the whole reading thing, it took me a few weeks to get half way. But then yesterday I sat down and said “enough is enough”, and smashed it out. Now I feel tired and I spent all night dreaming about chasing Alexander all over Germany. Because, not only did this novel span over a vast length of time, it also spanned over a vast distance geographically. From the Soviet Union, through Poland, Germany and many other parts of Europe, to New York City, Washington DC, Arizona and Massachusetts. I feel tired. 

But I’m already 60 pages into the third (and final – thank the lord) instalment. It’s a love/hate journey at this stage, fam. 

I’m in too deep to give up now. The Summer Garden, the last step between me and freedom from this series, just happens to be the longest of the three books. Don’t even ask me how. World War II is over now, yet the book goes on. I’m only 60 pages in, but I already suspect this will be one of the most challenging ones yet. As I’ve said before, I get extremely emotional when I read. In fact, it highly suggests I shouldn’t read at all; I’m constantly in a bad/sad/messy mood as a result of reading. But still I read on.

Believe it or not (probably not, after reading the state of these reviews), I am enjoying this series. It is exhausting, and requires a lot of commitment and a lot of reading, and it’s by no means an easy read. But it is engaging, intriguing and the historical aspect is very interesting. I’m learning enough and enjoying it enough to keep turning the pages. Two down, one to go! 

Read before bed? Yes, it’s intense, but not in a scary suspense way

Cry-worthy? Potentially, though I was (surprisingly) dry-eyed 

Re-readable? Maybe one day

Potential to fall in love with characters? Maybe in a platonic sort of way

Score /10? Gotta give it a 7.5/10, an improvement on the first one

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