Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: Madonnas of Leningrad and Skype with author


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. . . .


 To be frank, I read this book solely because I wanted to join our local book club so I could interact with our adults in terms of reading. I saw the title and was not that thrilled. However, from the start I was hooked. I do not typically read this. Historical fiction is last on my enjoyable reads. The two stories of Marina dealing with losing her memory to dementia and flashbacks to the Seige of Leningrad was amazing. I cared so deeply about both storylines in two completely different ways. The dementia aspect I cared about as my family and friends all know somebody affected. The description was so real. The other storyline of the past with her working to preserve all the art from The Hermitage was really interesting. It is a part of history many don't talk about, but was a tough period that lasted a long time and was quite brutal.

For the bookclub we Skyped with the author and it made the story even more amazing. She talked about how she pieced the story together like a quilt where she cut all these little snippets of ideas and before her own eyes the story came together. She was working with the character based on her grandmother and watched a PBS special on the seige. She talked about it is risky to write between two time periods because one is interrupting the other story and can be a distraction when the reader really likes one storyline.
Her advice to students interested in writing is to write what you know. She would not talk about her current book she is writing because she said it is not good to do so. When discussing her research for the novel she did discuss how women survived more than men because they naturally have more body fat.
Overall, I am so glad I read this book. It really opened my eyes to many new things. This is a book I would never have picked up in a million years and because I have I have a great reading experience under my belt. Please check this book out.

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