20 August 2013


  • published by the Fourth Estate, London 2006
  • ISBN 0-00-721505-3
  • 228 pages
Synopsis (Amazon)

Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.

Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

My Take

Note: this is not crime fiction: it is one of my ventures this year outside my preferred genre.

There are many things to like about this book: the insights it gives into the siege of Leningrad in 1941 and how it affected the population as their food stores were bombed by the Luftwaffe; its gentle treatment of Marina's oncoming Alzheimer's as her mind constantly interchanges the present with the past; the irony that a woman who had such a good memory decades before, who could mentally recreate the long galleries of the Hermitage museum where she worked, can now not identify her own daughter; the way Marina and her husband have never told their children of their war time experiences; and much more.

Even though it covers so much territory, this is not a long book. There is a startling clarity as Marina remembers the various Madonnas that hung on the walls of the museum, describing them in detail.

Most enjoyable. My rating: 4.6


Irene said...

I've had this on my TBR list forever, thanks for reminding me.

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - I don't venture as often as I should outside of crime fiction. This sounds like a good reason to do so...


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