by Helen Dunmore
Category: Fiction / Historical
291 pages; ISBN: 0-141-00073-2
Rating: 7/10 (Ratings explained)
This novel is a fictional account of the siege of Leningrad (or at least some of it) in World War II and was nominated for the Orange Prize in 2002.It is told from the point of view of a young Russian woman trying to keep herself and her family alive in the desperate winter of 1941.
As you can guess this book is not a barrel of laughs.A fair proportion of the characters don't make it to the final pages and the suffering described is almost unimaginable.Dunmore,though, keeps it readable with the lightness of her prose and the inclusion of enough mini-miracles to keep the flame of hope alive.
There are faults.Anna's resourceful friend Evgenia turns up to save the day once too often in the manner of Gabriel Oak in Far From The Madding Crowd.Her doctor boyfriend Andreii is a boring one-dimensional character and it's impossible to care what happens to her self-absorbed father or his lover.And the novel very obviously runs out of steam;the suggestion that the worst was over by the spring of 1942 is certainly questionable.
Most glaringly for a British reader, Dunmore gives the impression that Leningrad's survival owed everything to Russian endurance and ingenuity.No mention of the thousands of British and American sailors who lost their lives delivering supplies across the Baltic to the beleaguered city.