Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: "The Siege" by Helen Dunmore

From Goodreads:  Helen Dunmore's astoundingly beautiful new drama of two intertwined love stories unfolding during the 1941 siege on Leningrad has already been deemed "a pinnacle in [her] fiction, and in the year's fiction too" (The Telegraph) and "a world-class novel" (The Times). At once epic and intimate, The Siege is a modern masterpiece. Sudden news of a German attack rips the Levin family — twenty-two-year-old Anna; her young brother, Kolya; and their father, Mikhail — from their countryside retreat, throwing their world into unimagined turmoil. Soon all of Leningrad is trapped by the besieging German army, but daily life must go on. While Kolya plays with his toy fort, his tiny body grows cruelly thin. While Anna dreams of an artist's life, she forages for food in the ever more desperate city. Likewise, Dunmore's lush, lyrical appreciation of life's comforts — a fire in the hearth, jam on the tongue — dwells in The Siege even amid the darkest despair. Before the siege is over, a mysterious ex-actress (Mikhail's onetime lover) and a gentle young doctor (Anna's true love, perhaps) come to the Levins' frozen little apartment. Not all of the five will survive, but their struggle and their tragedy will ultimately bear hope for a new beginning. Helen Dunmore brilliantly shows us war as seen through the eyes of ordinary people "while bravely extending her range" (The Daily Mail). The Siege is a profoundly moving celebration of love, life, and survival.

My Thoughts: 
            My master’s degree is in Russian and East European Studies and I love Russian history so anytime I see a work of historical fiction that takes place in Russia, I will read it.  This book begins with the German invasion of Russia in 1941 and follows the life of a family during the first year of the siege of Leningrad.  While the story is slow at times, the writing is beautiful.  Part of the story is told from the point of view of Anna, a girl in her early twenties who is responsible for her father and 5 year old brother.  Anna is a fantastic character:  she is strong, hard-working and determined to do what it takes to save her family.  I also found her really relatable; she’s not a hero, just a girl who has sacrificed, and continues to sacrifice for the sake of her brother.  Other parts of the story are told from the third person point of view and it’s as though you are watching what is going on throughout the city as people are struggling to survive and those in power try to figure out to feed the citizens of the story.  I absolutely loved the switch between the two points of view.  I also liked how the story ended at the end of the first year of the siege.  The siege of Leningrad lasted for almost 900 days so the story ends on a hopeful note but leaves the reader wondering what will happen during the next year.  Surprisingly, this didn’t feel like a cliffhanger ending and I found myself not bothered by the story ending the way it did.  A sequel to this book just came out last month and I am sure I will read it.  3 ½ stars.

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of this book before but it sounds interesting! I love novels with a historical setting like this. Great review:)


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