When Andrei sees the notorious poet Nina Anishkova in a Petrograd cabaret in 1920, it’s the start of a love affair that will last for the rest of their lives. Andrei is half English, and when the Bolsheviks threaten to shoot him as a British spy, he is forced to flee Russia and take refuge in London.
Nina remains in Russia, half-starving, unable to publish, unable to emigrate, trying to make a new life for herself and her son, forced into a loveless marriage in order to survive.
During the purges, her husband is taken, and she begins to write “Witness,” a poem that breaks the silence about the Terror. Working secretly at night, alone in her room, she learns each line of the poem by heart, and then puts a match to the pages. Paper is dangerous, and Nina is a marked woman. If the NKVD find “Witness,” they will send her to the camps.
“Witness” is not published in Russia until 1989. Nina has been dead for twenty years. Now over ninety, and a world-famous sculptor, Andrei tells his grand-daughter Charlotte about his love for Nina, and the life that was stolen from them.