Easily the most engrossing book I've read this year, Dean's work is a quick, easy read (for me, just one sitting on a free Saturday afternoon,) but at the same time is educational. I've a graduate degree in European revolutionary history and I've done some study of Russian history, but I knew nothing of the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) or how the Hermitage coped with the it. Dean's illustrations of suffering and struggling with the simple act of just being alive is exceptional. The book is also an interesting examination of Alzheimer's Disease as, at the same time as the main character is coping with the limitations of her disease, the memories of 60 years ago are as fresh as ever, her "memory palace" wholly intact.
An excellent throwaway read, but not one I'll keep coming back to or even keep on my shelf...
I had not heard of this book or its author. I bought the book by accident. However, I couldn't put it down once I started it.
The layered plot involves an older woman who has developed Alzheimer's, and whose memories and observations revolve around her present relationships with her family as well as her returning back in time to WWII to the siege of Leningrad. During the war, she worked with others to hide all the Hermitage Museum's artistic treasures. In both periods of her life, present and past, she describes her friendships, loves, and family as well as the cycle of history she was in which she was participating.
Debra Dean, the author, writes beautifully, almost poetically, and the descriptions of the Museums, its holdings, and the city of Leningrad during the war have been thoroughly researched. As a reader, I was swept back in time after the first couple of pages.
I thought this was a wonderful book.
I heard about this book from (I think) the library's book review emails and thought it would be fascinating, so I added it to my wish list on PBS. I think the big draw for me was the Russian aspect of the book, but I'm not sure. Anyway I started reading it at 9pm; when I went to bed at 11:30, I was on page 180. I completed the rest of the book the next day during my lunch break, except for the additional info in the back which I read the following day. In the end I was a bit disappointed with it. I think she accomplished her purpose, to show what it's like in the mind of a woman with Alzheimer's. But I also think there was too little character development for my taste. I found out from the additional info that the author has only done short stories and poetry up âtil now, so I think that accounts for the brevity of the novel and the lack of depth in the characters. I've already posted in back on PBS as there is a 14 person waiting list for it. I hope someone else will enjoy it more than I did.
I love how the past and present intersect and trade off in, The Madonnas of Leningrad. Russian-born Marina is an elderly woman who has to be reminded about many things because her memory is slowly being poisoned by Alzheimers. Marina is a young girl who stays at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad during the German invasion to help evacuate the paintings and art. She is compassionate and tends to the needs of others while living in the basement of the museum. She sees, feels and smells death all around her. Marina is old again and her beloved husband, Dmitri, who was a soldier during the war, is helping her to dress. He is tender with his wife and his anguish at facing the stage of his wifes condition is as heartbreaking as the day he had to leave her to help stop the Nazis siege. Marina is young again and she is surviving horrific war conditions as her city is surrounded. We are there as her past and present are reconstructed in vivid detail and her grown daughter, who never really knew much about her own mothers life, discovers things about herself, through witnessing her parents unconditional and absolute love for one another.
A moving, heartbreaking portrait of a Russian woman suffering from Altzheimer's & how the past is much clearer than the present. Moving between the past and present this book presents an accurate picture of what life with the disease is like while also showing the horrors of the past. Very well done!