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The Siege [Paperback]

Helen Dunmore
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 May 2002
Leningrad, September 1941. German tanks surround the city, imprisoning those who live there. The besieged people of Leningrad face shells, starvation, and the Russian winter. Interweaving two love affairs in two generations, THE SIEGE draws us deep into the Levin's family struggle to stay alive during this terrible winter. It is a story about war and the wounds it inflicts on people's lives. It is also a lyrical and deeply moving celebration of love, life and survival.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (30 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141000732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141000732
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 158,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The final words of Helen Dunmore's The Siege--"No, I shall not wholly die..."(Alexander Pushkin)--respond to the stark threat with which the novel begins: "Re: The future of Leningrad ... The Führer has decided to have Leningrad wiped from the face of the earth". In this powerful work of fiction, Dunmore writes through her fascination with one of the most remarkable, and painful, episodes in Russian history: the siege of Leningrad through the winter of 1941 during which untold thousands perished of cold and starvation.

The Siege is a type of memorial, a literary document to an experience in which, as Dunmore writes, "being dead is normal". People die in the streets, in their beds; whole families are frozen, "bodies piled up by the Karpovka canal, or outside the cemeteries". What does it take to survive? Dunmore explores that question through the powerful characters--Anna Levin, Kolya (her child-brother) and Andrei (her lover)--who people this novel, conjuring the contest with death that becomes the daily existence of the Leningraders, their belief in a world beyond the siege. The Siege is itself part of that world, stricken by memory and the question of what it means for a novel (and a novelist) to take on the "flesh of all those other Leningraders who died of hunger in silent, frigid rooms". This is part of the wager, and accomplishment, of Dunmore's extraordinary book and confirmation of the extraordinary skill and sensitivity, of her writing. --Vicky Lebeau --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"'[She is] one of this country's most accomplished literary talents' Daily Telegraph 'Beautifully fulfils the highest function of a storyteller - to make you wonder what will happen next... electrifying' Sunday Times" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book - Read it! 14 Oct 2003
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful, unput-downable book - a love story in many senses but, ultimately it's the story of the city of Leningrad in the grip of winter and of starvation - it's a story of survival. Some of the other reviewers have complained that Dunmore doesn't go deep enough into the characters, that they are not fully developed, but I think that is intentional. When every day is a struggle just to live, there is no energy left for emotions and I think the author's sometimes 'matter of fact' prose reflects that very well. (And it still made me cry!!)
I was so absorbed by this book that I felt guilty for eating while I was reading it and when I left the house one night I fully expected there to be snow on the streets...
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heart wrenching! 13 April 2005
What a beautifully written book this is. It was a treat from start to finish. Although the subject matter is necessarily bleak, the triumph over adversity scenario has never been so terrifyingly real.
Anna, a young woman, her 5 year old brother and her father are trying to survive the Seige of Leningrad in temperatures most of us cannot even imagine, and are unlikely to experience. The Germans are trying to starve the city to death and are succeeding. There is no food. Every step and every expenditure of energy has to be carefully thought out. Every nerve and every fibre of Anna's being are programmed to survive against all odds. Her will to live and keep her brother alive is so strong. The writing makes you feel as if you are there in the apartment with them, so much so that I wept when they found a jar of jam that had been hidden!
This book makes you think about human nature to survive against all odds. A very emotional read, which gave me an insight to a part of WW2 that I hadn't read much about.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
This book takes a relatively short period of the siege of Leningrad and carefully documents its effects on the lives of a Russian family. The descriptions of the city and its surrounding countryside are wonderfully evocative, capturing both the beauty pre-war and the terrible destruction that first the Germans, and then the winter and starvation, bring to Leningrad. If I have to make a criticism it would be that the snapshot of the siege ends after it is only a third completed, although it is implied that the worst is over. The next 2 years were also very, very hard and expensive in terms of lives lost. But this remains a study of humanity in the midst of brutality.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By Carolyn
The reader surfaces from this book with a sense of amazement coupled with guilt. The world around us is blanketed with a cornucopia of food, warmth, comforts of every kind. Yet only a few decades past millions suffered a living death in Leningrad and Dunmore is able to place us at the very centre of the besieged city - indeed, in a stark and freezing apartment with a small cast of noble characters. Anna and her family are drawn with a poetic intensity that mirrors the great soul and endurance of the Russian people. Of course, there are crooks and cowards in this snowy mausoleum of a place where the world seems to teeter on the edge of a void but crowning all is a sense of the heroic, the eternal power of love, the unstoppable continuity of nature and humanity's place in it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book 22 Jun 2001
A harrowing, beautifully written account of the siege of Leningrad. The book is well reasearched and very interesting, but it is minutiae of life -literally staying alive - which Helen Dunmore describes so well. The book concentrates mainly on one family and how they cope during this ordeal - it shows the ingenuity of people pushed to the limit of endurance. It is a moving and humane book which has kindled my interest in this period of Russian history.
I have long been a fan of Helen Dunmore's work - but in my opinion this novel is the best thing she has written - a brilliant return to the form of "Burning Bright" and "A spell of Winter".
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quantum leap forward for a fine writer 2 July 2001
By A Customer
The Siege is by far the best novel Helen Dunmore has written, and establishes her as an important writer. It uses her skill at describing women's domestic and emotional lives but widens it in placing her characters in the 1941 Siege of Leningrad. Anna,an aspiring artist has to look after her father (a writer who can't get published because his work isn't upbeat enough for the Party) and little brother. When we first see her she's digging up onions at the family dacha, and those she can't dig up she destroys - a foretaste of the scroched earth policy that made the Russians impossible to defeat. Pretty soon, as winters and the Nazis close in, all the pets are eaten and there are rumours of cannibalism. Anna's family survive, not just physically but morally although at a terrible price. One of the things that keeps them going is the memory of Russian literature, even when they have to burn their books to keep warm. Although Anna's father and her lover are insubstantial characters, the depiction of the women more than compensates. This is a marvellous, gripping novel about suffering and love, which fuses the world of women's fiction with that of Tolstoy.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cold, bleak and compelling 29 Nov 2010
By Suzie
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Both The Siege and its sequel The Betrayal can stand alone but if you're intending to read both, it's probably better to read them in the correct order. Having read The Betrayal first I knew who would survive and who would perish, but for me this didn't spoil The Siege.

The story centres round Anna, a nursery teacher in her early twenties. She has looked after her young brother Kolya since their mother died in childbirth and shares an apartment in Leningrad with their father, a writer whose offerings are out of favour with the authorities. Andrei is a young doctor, trying to help the wounded as the German army advances. Among those he helps is Anna's father.

The setting is Leningrad in 1941, and when the German army surrounds the city, effectively isolating it from the rest of the country and cutting off all supplies, Anna carries on her bicycle what produce she can from the family dacha and the struggle for survival begins. The Russian winter is long and harsh, and Helen Dunmore excels at creating a sense of winter. This is even more apparent in The Siege than it was in A Spell of Winter, the first book I read by this author.

You can feel the cold and hunger as the nights lengthen and the snow deepens. As I tucked into my bowl of porridge this morning, I tried to imagine how anyone could survive on just two slices of bread a day, all that the rations allowed. Imagine struggling through the snow in temperatures of -20 degrees to queue for bread, your ration book securely hidden so no one steals it, without even knowing whether there will be any bread today.

I had put off reading this book as I feared it would be gloomy and depressing but, despite the hardship and the millions dying of starvation and cold, it ends with a ray of hope in the brief Leningrad summer. I'm so pleased I read it, and would thoroughly recommend it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Seige
This is a fictionalised account of the Seige of Leningrad 1941-1943. Written from the view point of a young woman it depicts the developing effects of starvation on her old and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by JenHa
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This book is a very good introduction to the Leningrad siege. It is quite well written and has a reasonable plot although I felt it faded away a little at the end.
Published 1 month ago by Helen D. Smart
4.0 out of 5 stars Feel the pain
Totally Enthralling. Once started I could not stop until I knew how these people had fared. Text was so evocative.
Published 4 months ago by V.A.PHILLIPS
5.0 out of 5 stars Think what we do.
A good read but chilling in every way! This situation is still happening in our amazing world today that's what so unbearable! How can we do this to fellow humans!
Published 5 months ago by Lorna Sampson
4.0 out of 5 stars the siege
An excellent book, very poetic and descriptive. Characters really well depicted and I like way that the story about the whole city and the tragic events of the siege is told from... Read more
Published 5 months ago by julie dansey-wright
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
I was fascinated by the history of the time described in this novel although it was very harrowing in parts. Beautifully written.
Published 8 months ago by Catrin Board
5.0 out of 5 stars the seige
Well researched book about the siege of St Petersburg in the second world war. Raw descripions of life as it was, and survival against the odds
Published 8 months ago by sallyaspin
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Beautifully written, well researched, poignant story, We read it as a book group choice and it provoked much lively discussion!
Published 8 months ago by Jeeves
4.0 out of 5 stars The Siege
This was a grim book but very good and did have characters with whom you felt sympathy. It seemed historically correct and some of the pictures of old Russia were delightful. Read more
Published 8 months ago by F. Brown
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read
Superb evocation of the horror of the siege of Leningrad. Dunmore captures the cold

of the Russian winter and the pain and numbing that hunger brings as well as the... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Steve bull
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