Monday, January 9, 2012

The Madonnas of Leningrad, 2006

So now I need to plan a trip to Russia. This book made me want to head to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and just wander it's great halls. The depictions of the art and the building's grandeur reeled me in. After finishing the book I read that the author had not visited the museum or the country before writing the novel. That seems unbelievable given the level of detail present in her book. But it's true, she did not visit Russia until after the book was written and bought by a publisher.

The books is small and yet haunting in a way. It blends the story of a woman's current reality with Alzheimer's and her regression back into her life during World War II. Her present day surroundings find her in the USA attending a grandchild's wedding. But in her mind she is continually being transported back to the 1940s and her time during Hitler's siege of Leningrad. The book transitions gently between time periods back and forth. It's almost as if you are inside the main character, Marina's, mind as she drifts between realities.

At first I was worried this would be similar to the novel, Sarah's Key, which I did not particularly enjoy. But instead this novel seemed to capture the story in a much more effortless way. It's a small book with short chapters and I managed to read it in a couple of days. But the story is much larger and the book seems to speak to that. It references the resent day however, the past is the main story. Really the reader learns very little about the life of Marina after she left the Hermitage. And the snippets that we do learn are pretty commonplace. It is her story while under siege that gets the most air time.

The siege is barren and cold. I remember learning about how the winter stopped Hitler from invading Russia but I don't think I realized that the people of St Petersburg were trapped. The cold and pervasive death is striking when placed alongside Marinas pregnancy and the museum that they preserving. I found the book an enticement to go and see the Hermitage myself. I'll add it to my list of places to visit in life.

One other thing about this book, it's the author's first novel. As is Purple Hibiscus, which I mentioned a few posts ago. They are remarkable stories and it's a bit mind blowing to me that they are the first thing that these author's have had published. I wonder how you follow them with a second story?

Here's Nemo enjoying some sunshine at the conservatory...

In front of the fountain from Morocco
Nothing is more interesting than dirt in a crack
Except for a drainage hole!

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