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The Siege
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 11 March 2011
This is an extraordinary book dealing with the stark horror of the siege of Leningrad in 1941. This isn't just a plain narrative of events that take place during the first year of the siege; we are taken into the starved, wandering minds of Anna and her family, as they are finding difficulty in working out when night becomes day, spending much of their time sleeping just to conserve energy. It is told in a matter of fact, unsentimental way of how Anna goes about the everyday business of feeding her 5 year old brother from anything that is available to eat - including the boiled skin of a leather manicure case - as well as taking care of her father, her lover and a family friend who are all living together in their small apartment. The Siege takes place during one of the harshest winters on record - something the Russians would find trouble dealing with even if they were fit, healthy and well fed. They will burn books and furniture to stay warm and eke out an existence on nothing more than a ration of 125 grams of bread a day. Many of the population can't even summon the energy to stand in the queue for this meagre ration and often die there and then in the streets. However, the book is not without hope as gradually supplies do manage to get through and the Leningraders (what's left of them) start to feel alive again, even though the Siege was to last for another few years. This book highlights the extraordinary plight of a city coping against all odds. A brilliant book.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2001
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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 1 February 2002
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
on 22 June 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
on 2 July 2001
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
on 12 April 2012
After reading Zennor in Darkness by this author, I was hooked! So I purchased a couple more by her, including this one 'The Siege' - it had me gripped from the start, beautifully written, she paints pictures with words - it was a book I could not put down, reading it every chance I got - in the bath, in bed, took it to work . . . you get the idea. I so wanted to know what would happen to the characters in the book . . . . and ordered the sequel as soon as I finished it (it took me less than a week to read!). I have since read the sequel, and hope she makes it into a series with another volume! Recommended book - recommended author.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 29 March 2011
This is a brilliant book, well researched, and a powerful picture of a tragic period in Russian history.One feels the cold, this is a book steeped in real atmosphere. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history of our time.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2014
This book paints an extraordinary picture of an episode in the 2nd World War that I think is often overlooked. Not for those who like a comfortable read though - it is a very tough story. The description of the discipline necessary to survive in such difficult circumstances are very vivid. And of course 1,500,000 people did not survive - this was the death toll over the 2 years and 4 months of the blockade. The characters are so well realised - not romanticised. And the desperate attempts to keep warm made be shiver. I am not particularly Helen Dunmore fan - I picked up this book because I had become interested in this period in history when I read 'The Madonnas of Leningrad'. I am so glad that I did.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 22 June 2001
This is a beautifully written and moving account of the siege of Leningrad. This painful episode in Russian history is not something I had really been interested in before, however, since reading this book, I feel compelled to find out more. Helen Dunmore really makes you care about the characters and whether they will survive this ordeal. It is a gripping, disturbing, well researched yet lyrical account of human suffering. I read it in 2 days - utterly absorbing work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2014
This is a challenging novel which describes very eloquently a famous episode in the 2nd world war. The novel brings home the horror visited on the citizens of Leningrad, when it is besieged by the invading by German army, by focussing on the daily life of a family trying to survive it. As their life is so grim, this is often a difficult read. The reader is encouraged to continue by the excellence of the writing containing some wonderful evocative descriptions of what the characters see. The big picture and the historical context are only referenced through asides and their impact on the characters' lives. The author demonstrates amazing imagination in painting such a detailed and convincing word picture of a situation she cannot have actually experienced. I would strongly recommend this book but only to people who are happy to imagine very distressing events that they are most unlikely to have to experience in real life. I intend to read more of Helen Dunmore's books.
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