Under a Blood Red Sky - By Kate Furnivall


I would like to thank Joanne Dickinson and all at Little, Brown for their wonderful enthusiasm and beautiful artwork. I am particularly grateful to Emma Stonex for casting her eagle eye over the manuscript with such expertise.

Special thanks to my agent Teresa Chris for wisely curbing my excesses and for her invaluable insight into the heart of the book.

Thanks also to Alla Sashniluc, not only for providing me with the Russian language but also with a greater understanding of the Russian way of life in a Urals village, and for correcting my blunders.

Finally my love and thanks to Norman for his constant encouragement and advice. It means everything to me.


Davinsky Labour Camp, Siberia February 1933

The Zone. That’s what the compound was called.

A double barrier of dense barbed wire encircled it, backed by a high fence and watchtowers that never slept. In Sofia Morozova’s mind it merged with all the other hated lice-ridden camps she’d been in. Transit camps were the worst. They ate up your soul, then spat you out into cattle trucks to move you on to the next one. Etap, it was called, this shifting of prisoners from one camp to another until no friends, no possessions and no self remained. You became nothing. That’s what they wanted.

Work is an Act of Honour, Courage and Heroism. Those words were emblazoned in iron letters a metre high over the gates of Davinsky prison labour camp. Every time Sofia was marched in and out to work in the depths of the taiga forest she read Stalin’s words above her head. Twice a day for the ten years that were her sentence. That would add up to over seven thousand times - that is, if she lived that long, which was unlikely. Would she come to believe that hard labour was an ‘Act of Heroism’ after reading those words seven thousand times? Would she care any more whether she believed it or not?

As she trudged out into the snow in the five o’clock darkness of an Arctic morning with six hundred other prisoners, two abreast in a long silent shuffling crocodile, she spat as she passed under Stalin’s words. The spittle froze before it hit the ground.

‘There’s going to be a white-out,’ Sofia said.

She had an uncanny knack for smelling out the weather half a day before it arrived. It wasn’t something she’d been aware of in the days when she lived near Petrograd, but there the skies were nowhere near as high, nor so alarmingly empty. Out here, where the forests swallowed you whole, it came easily to her. She turned to the young woman sitting at her side.

‘Go on, Anna, you’d better go over and tell the guards to get the ropes out.’

‘A good excuse for me to warm my hands on their fire, anyway.’ Anna smiled. She was a fragile figure, always quick to find a smile, but the shadows under her blue eyes had grown so dark they looked bruised, as though she’d been in a fight.

Sofia was more worried about her friend than she was willing to admit, even to herself. Just watching Anna stamping her feet to keep the blood flowing made her anxious.

‘Make sure the brainless bastards take note of it,’ grimaced Nina, a wide-hipped Ukrainian who knew how to swing a sledgehammer better than any of them. ‘I don’t want our brigade to lose any of you in the white-out. We need every single pair of hands if we’re ever going to get this blasted road built.’

When visibility dropped to absolute zero in blizzard conditions, the prisoners were roped together on the long trek back to camp. Not to stop them escaping, but to prevent them blundering out of line and freezing to death in the snow.

‘Fuck the ropes,’ snorted Tasha, the woman on the other side of Sofia. Tasha tucked her greasy dark hair back under her headscarf. She had small narrow features and a prim mouth that was surprisingly adept at swearing. ‘If they’ve got any bloody sense, we’ll finish early today and get back to the stinking huts ahead of it.’

‘That would be better for you, Anna,’ Sofia nodded. ‘A shorter day. You could rest.’

‘Don’t worry about me.’

‘But I do worry.’

‘No, I’m doing well today. I’ll soon be catching up with your work rate, Nina. You’d better watch out.’

Anna gave a mischievous smile to the three other women and they laughed outright, but Sofia noticed that her friend didn’t miss the quick glance that passed between them. Anna struggled against another