The Sniper by James Riordan


The Sniper by James Riordan

Stalingrad snipers were a legend in their time. Their patience, keen eyes and ruthlessness helped win the Battle of Stalingrad and turn the tide of the Second World War. This is the true story of a teenage sniper recruited in 1942 by Vasily Zaitsev to seek out and shoot German officers. To begin with, the youngster finds it almost impossible to kill, but after a shocking discovery, goes on to 'snap as many as 84 German sticks', and following capture and a daredevil escape, leads a handpicked unit on a hazardous mission - to seize Field Marshall Paulus, the Commander-in-Chief of the invading army. But this sniper is no ordinary marksman...The author first visited Stalingrad in 1959, and made subsequent visits in 1963 and, most recently, in 2006, when he met Tania Chernova, the heroine of this novel. Having studied Russian in Birmingham and Moscow, James Riordan lived, worked and travelled extensively in Russia for five years, and has presented several BBC radio programmes on Russia. He is currently Emeritus Professor of Russian at the University of Surrey.


An exciting, well-researched story. The author met the real sniper in 2002. Irish Examiner Every moment of the chilling account...should change the perspective of many readers - both girls and boys - whether they study this period at school or not. This is an important story from the Second World War and one for a mature reader. Carousel A challenge to read and I think would engage a 12+ audience. INIS From the first page this is a powerful and heart-rending story which traces the rapid evolvement of an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances. Well known for his sensitive and perceptive writing about adolescence in extreme situations, Riordan has produced an extraordinary and thought-provoking book. This is a story that lingers in the reader's mind and should certianly be an award winner in 2009. School Librarian Riordan writes with pace and verve, having set the mood with a highly atmospheric opening chapter. He keeps the reader turning pages and I for one could not put the book down. There are wonderfully vivid and tautly written descriptive passages here and Riordan does not shirk from presenting the cruelty and hardship endured by the Russian people and their enemies. Ibby Link This is a powerful and moving account of an event which many young people may be unaware of today.

About the Author

James Riordan

James Riordan ( 10 October 1936 - 10 February 2012) grew up during the war in his chimney-sweep grandfather’s house in Portsmouth. After school he was a barman, waiter, railway clerk, commercial salesman, and dance band musician. During his National Service in the RAF he learned Russian and went on to become Professor of Russian Studies at Surrey University. Besides novels, he has written folk-tale collections, picture books and over 20 academic publications. His first novel for children, Sweet Clarinet, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children’s Book Award and, like his other novels The Prisoner and When the Guns Fall Silent, is based partly on his own wartime experiences.

Riordan then produced a steady flow of anthologies of various kinds from across Russia and its near neighbours, acting as both collector and translator. He also diversified into other folk-story traditions, including The 12 Labours of Hercules (1998), which won the UK Reading Association award. His collection The Woman in the Moon and Other Tales of Forgotten Heroines (1985), including stories from Japan, Ghana, Sicily, Lapland and the UK, was celebrated for its strong female characters.

Breaking away from other people's stories, he wrote his first novel, Sweet Clarinet (1998), the touching story of a boy overcoming injuries sustained in the London Blitz through his love of playing music. Nine more novels followed; all have something of the folk tale about them in terms of a child overcoming adversity through courage and belief. Many, such as Rebel Cargo (2007), the story of children sold into slavery and his final novel, Blood Runner (2011), the story of a young black boy whose parents are killed by the South African police, carry strong socio-political messages. Russia never lost its appeal as a source of stories for him and he returned there with the setting of his penultimate novel, The Sniper (2008), which is based on the true story of a teenage marksman at the siege of Stalingrad.

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Book Info


240 pages
Interest Age: From 10


James Riordan
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Publication date

14th November 2008



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