redyear_cover1_thumbCan a red-haired woman from Chicago single-handedly force Joseph Stalin to back down?

Jan Shapin’s novel, RED YEAR (CambridgeBooks) tells the little known story of Rayna Prohme, a significant figure in the American Socialist/Communist movement.

Rayna Prohme was born Rayna Simons in Chicago in 1894 and grew up in a wealthy, loving Jewish family. At the University of Illinois, she met and became good friends with Dorothy Day, the Catholic activist for workers rights. Both became interested in Socialism, reading numerous socialist novels by Upton Sinclair and Jack London. They eventually joined the American Socialist Party. Inspired by the Russian Revolution, Rayna joined the American Communist Party.

Shortly after marrying her left-wing husband, William Prohme, they moved to China. They became supporters of the Kuomintang (National People’s Party) and edited the Kuomintang’s English language paper in Wuhan. They were there between 1926-1927 during the Wuhan Interlude. In 1927, Rayna becomes the political confidant and lover of Mikhail Borodin, the Russian commander sent by Lenin to prop up a failing Chinese revolution. In a bid to continue their love affair, Rayna hatches a plan to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the Chinese revolution’s founder, to Moscow.

But Moscow doesn’t roll out the welcome mat for the women. Borodin shuns them. Rayna’s stipend and housing arrangements are cancelled. She is told to, “Go home.” But Rayna does not want to go back to her husband or an ordinary life in Chicago. Instead, she applies to a Soviet espionage school that soon demands she spy on Mme. Sun. The Chinese widow is, by now, in grave danger as her exit visa is blocked. Rayna must make a choice — Borodin and Russia or Mme. Sun and China.

Soon she begins suffering from headache and lapses of memory. She starts to withdraw, fearful she’s going mad or getting dementia. On November 21st, 1927 Rayna dies of encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

RED YEAR is deep in historical facts and Jan Shapin presents Rayna Prohme as an exciting, interesting three-dimensional character, you can’t help but get caught up with and want to learn more. I indeed did learned a great deal about the American Socialist and Communists parties. RED YEAR isn’t a quick read. I believe it’s important to single out how the actual book is produced. For me, reading the book was somewhat difficult due to the tight print. The sentences seemed to run into the other. I’d suggest a more reader-friendly type for the next printing. Knowing the novel was based on actual history, I did some research on my own. Rayna Prohme is an interesting woman more people should know about, and Jan Shapin was clever to write a novel about her.

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About Jan Shapin

Jan Shapin has been writing plays and screenplays for nearly thirty years, in the last decade concentrating on fiction. Shapin has studied playwriting at Catholic University in Washington, DC, screenwriting at the Film and Television Workshop and University of Southern California, and fiction writing at a variety of locations including Barnard College’s Writers on Writing seminar, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Her plays have been produced in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. She has received grants from the RI Council for the Humanities and has served as a juror for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts screenplay fellowship awards. Two previous novels, A Desire Path and A Snug Life Somewhere, were published in 2012 and 2014.

She lives in North Kingstown, RI with her photographer husband. Learn more about Jan at her website,

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Thanks to TLC Book Tours, we have one copy of RED YEAR to giveaway. Just tell us the name of some historical figure you think deserves to have a book written about. We’ll announce a winner next week. Have a lovely weekend.

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9 thoughts on “RED YEAR by Jan Shapin & GIVEAWAY

  1. Thanks, Cindy, for a wonderful review of Red Year. Rayna is,indeed, a fascinating character and the revolutionary times she threw herself into were even more astonishing. Americans and China and Russia– what could be more relevant to today?

    Jan Shapin

    Liked by 1 person

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