The Madonnas of Leningrad

The Madonnas of Leningrad

Book - 2006
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One of the most talked about books of the year . . . Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. And while the elderly Russian woman cannot hold on to fresh memories--the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild--her distant past is preserved: vivid images that rise unbidden of her youth in war-torn Leningrad.

In the fall of 1941, the German army approached the outskirts of Leningrad, signaling the beginning of what would become a long and torturous siege. During the ensuing months, the city's inhabitants would brave starvation and the bitter cold, all while fending off the constant German onslaught. Marina, then a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, along with other staff members, was instructed to take down the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, yet leave the frames hanging empty on the walls--a symbol of the artworks' eventual return. To hold on to sanity when the Luftwaffe's bombs began to fall, she burned to memory, brushstroke by brushstroke, these exquisite artworks: the nude figures of women, the angels, the serene Madonnas that had so shortly before gazed down upon her. She used them to furnish a "memory palace," a personal Hermitage in her mind to which she retreated to escape terror, hunger, and encroaching death. A refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

Seamlessly moving back and forth in time between the Soviet Union and contemporary America, The Madonnas of Leningrad is a searing portrait of war and remembrance, of the power of love, memory, and art to offer beauty, grace, and hope in the face of overwhelming despair. Gripping, touching, and heartbreaking, it marks the debut of Debra Dean, a bold new voice in American fiction.

Publisher: New York : William Morrow, 2006.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780060825300
Call Number: DEAN
Characteristics: p. ; cm.
Subjects: Saint Petersburg (Russia) -- History -- Siege, 1941-1944 -- Fiction.
Older women -- Fiction.
Russian Americans -- Fiction.
Reminiscing in old age -- Fiction.


From the critics

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Mar 16, 2017

Fascinating historical fiction novel set in the Hermitage during WWII and modern times. Central figure was a museum tour guide who survived the German bombings and later in life copes with dementia. Well done.

AL_ALYSONC Aug 16, 2016

I loved this book and I think the story will stay with me always.

Aug 02, 2016

The author's ability to describe the paintings as seen through Marina's eyes many years ago was wonderful. I could actually "see" each painting she was describing. I would have liked to know more about Marina the woman, about her life after the war, how she came to be in America and so on. Her character lacked depth which lessened the horrific times she survived. A good book for a first time author.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 22, 2015

Dean has written a painterly reflection on a love of art that enabled a young woman named Marina to survive the Siege of Leningrad. As the story moves from her life in wartime Russia to her present life on the Washington coast, her memory of the Hermitage paintings remains despite her struggle with Alzheimer's disease. By visually and verbally depicting the stolen and beautiful artworks for herself and others, Marina is able to illuminate and live through the darkness of past times.

Aug 21, 2013

Beautifully written. Touching and evocative.

StratfordLibrary Mar 22, 2013

Blind Date With a Book Comment:"Excellent and timely since I plan to visit the Hermitage this summer and I am a student of history and art."

Oct 17, 2012

A deeply touching book, flashing between a young woman's ordeals at the Hermitage Museum during the horrendous siege of Leningrad during WW II and late life, as Alzheimer's takes hold. Art is a strong theme. Wonderfully human. If the writing had been more taut, this would have deserved the highest rating.

Oct 10, 2012

An interesting tale that is both real and imaginary in the best sense. The book brings you through multiple countries and times. A little depressing.

Aug 25, 2012

_The Madonnas of Leningrad_ was an interesting mix of historical and contemporary fiction. I enjoyed the seamless weaving of an aging couple's stories caught in the net of a changing reality. The deft use of details about the Siege of Leningrad marries nicely with Dean's artistic eye for depicting the onset of Alzheimer's. Although unthinkable tragedies beset the characters in this novel, beautiful moments of compassion remind us how to remember the past and how to move forward into the uncertain future.

Booktraveler Aug 06, 2012

I enjoyed The Madonnas of Leningrad. It gives you a good feel for day to day life in Leningrad while it is under siege by the Germans. I think the author missed an opportunity by not incorporating better use of the knowledge Marina acquired of the artistic works in the museum.

Another interesting book that also covers Leningrad during this same horrific era is City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff

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