Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Madannas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 231
Challenges: War Through the Generations
New-to-me Author: Yes
Author's Website

Simple Description:
This book flips back and forth between present day and the early 1940's- during WWII. The main character is Marina.

She was in her early 20's in 1941 when Leningrad was first surrounded by the Nazi's and bombing started. Her fiance, Dimitri had just left the city to fight in the Russian Army. She works for the State Hermitage Museum as a tour guide and has a love of art. As the story unfolds she is helping to pack up the priceless pieces of art so they can be removed from the city and taken somewhere safe. As the city is under attach, herself and her family end up living in the basement of the museum with several others. She is often on night watch, watching for incoming planes and then the locations of fires so they can be put out. She is a worker, so luckily that means her family gets a bit more food. However, due to the bombing and the harsh winter there isn't very much to go around. Several in the city die of starvation and cold every day. The thing that seems to help Marina is memorizing the artwork that used to hang in the halls.

The alternating story is present day Marina. She lives in the USA with her husband, Dimitri. She is old now, and suffers from Alzheimer. She goes in and out of present day and remembering the time during the war. She is often confused and believes the paintings are real.

Now what you really want to thoughts:
I thought the story was good but had some issues with how the author wrote it. The flashbacks aren't separated from the current day story. You can be reading the current day and the next paragraph is back in the 1940's. This took a bit for me to get used to, however once I was used to it it was easy to go back and forth. I just prefer when this is clear cut and the reader doesn't have to "think" about it. I can see how it works with the story, it's just not the style I prefer.

However, the story itself was very good. I haven't read much about the Soviet Union and WWII, guess I focus more on the American involvement. It was interesting to get some info on what happened in Leningrad during that time. Even though Marina is a fictional character I enjoyed seeing how she was able to deal with the things she went through by focusing on the artwork.
I also thought it interesting to see how Marina and her husband dealt with the war once it was over. You learn about this, just a little, through their daughter. You learn how they never talked about it, how they wouldn't waste any food and were very frugal. I've heard stories of those same types of things happening with people who had a rough time during the Great Depression. so it's definitely something I can see as happening in real life and thought it was a great addition to the story.

I really enjoyed the story and was glad I read it for the War Through the Generations challenge. I definitely recommend this book to others who enjoy reading about WWII.

This book is part of my collection and was either bought or given to me.


Literary Feline said...

Thank you for your great review, Kris. I have this one in my TBR collection but haven't yet managed to get to it (and I think it's been there a long while).

I'm going to be reading a book about Alzheimer's shortly and now you've made me want to read this one soon after. If only I didn't have five other books I want to get to this month. :-)

I think part of what's put me off from reading it is the Alzheimer's aspect. I think I'm in a better place now that time has passed in regards to my grandfather's death. He suffered from Alzheimer's and it was so difficult to see him go through all that he did. My husband's uncle was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and it's taken affect rapidly. It's a frightening illness.

I think what interests me most about Dean's novel, however, is the historical aspect. I am really interested in anything related to WWII, before, during and after.

tea said...

I have read this book. I love it. Thank you for your review.

Unknown said...

Tea - so glad you enjoyed this one too!

Literary Feline - I hope you get to it soon - but know what you mean about having others one you need/want to read first. haha! I actually think this one might help you understand the alzheimer's a bit more. It was interesting to see it flip from present day to past and know that she is living in present day but when she has her "moments" she is remembering what it was like and getting that confused with it being the past and not the present.

I'm sorry you've had to experience this with family members! I haven't, yet, and hope to keep it that way but you just don't know. It's so sad and hard.

Bookfool said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one as much as I did! And, I like that line at the end -- the one about it being from your personal collection. Kind of sad that you felt obligated to add that, isn't it?

Anna said...

I really liked this one, too. I see what you mean about flipping back and forth in time without making it clear. I'll get this up on the challenge blog soon.

Diary of an Eccentric

Anna and Serena said...

We've posted a link to your review on the War blog. Thanks for participating and we hope you will consider the 2010 Vietnam War reading challenge.