Rayna Prohme is a woman with a mission. Together with her husband Bill, a journalist, the couple travels to China, which is in the throes of a great, internal struggle between the Kuomintang (led by General Chiang Kai-shek) and a group of regional warlords. The nascent Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is allied with the Kuomintang - and together, their goal is to crush the warlords and unify China under one government.
The time is 1927. Both Rayna and Bill are committed leftists. Rayna sees the revolution in China as a struggle for freedom that can both unify and strengthen it, much in the same way that the 1917 October Revolution (and the subsequent Russian Civil War) culminated in the creation of the Soviet Union. Rayna is in her early 30s, a redhead from Chicago, and at times rather headstrong. But that is only because she believes in the freedom struggle and in Russia's role in China. That is how she manages to make the acquaintance of Mikhail Borodin, the head of the Soviet mission. Rayna ingratiates herself with Borodin and develops a deep attachment to him. Their relationship is a rather understated one - at least that is the impression I formed about it. Rayna also strikes up a friendship and working relationship with Madame Sun, the widow of the great Chinese democrat and revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen.
All the while, Chiang gathers up his forces and brutally breaks the power of the warlords. In the process, the Kuomintang and Communist alliance shatters. Stalin orders the Soviet mission out of China. Rayna at this point is set on going to the Soviet Union to learn to be a fully pledged Bolshevik, which she feels will make her more useful to Borodin and to China. What next ensues in the novel makes for an interesting set of events that are both bewildering and momentous. For that reason, I would strongly urge any reader of this review to take up "RED YEAR" to get the full story, elements of which reminded me of André Malraux's novel, "Man's Fate", which was also set in China during the 1920s and has the same philosophical, revolutionary themes.