An illuminating chronicle of the greatest siege of World War II.
Historian and journalist Reid (The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia, 2003, etc.) turns her considerable investigative powers to Germany’s 872-day siege on Russia’s important Baltic port, “the deadliest blockade of a city in human history.” The author recounts a woefully unprepared defense that would cost upwards of 800,000 lives inside Leningrad. The history of the siege has suffered from many revisions, with misinformation beginning as soon as the German army moved against Russia, when Stalinist propaganda was substituted for news. Even after Germany’s defeat, the narrative of Leningrad's siege was rewritten by a victorious Stalin, declared one of the greatest victories of the Russian people, the atrocities of starvation, cold and war effectively whitewashed. Since the fall of Stalinism, different political factions have claimed the story as their own. Reid corrects this by allowing the people of Leningrad to tell the story in their own words, pulling information from a wide range of sources: the bleak diaries left by those who died inside the city, journals kept by members of the advancing German army and interviews with the remaining survivors. The political intricacies of Russia can often be overwhelming, and the shifting alliances inside and outside the city are easily confused. However, the personal histories Reid brings to life make the insufferable conditions in the city all too clear and correct the great injustice of the siege: the silencing of its many voices. They are all here, unearthed and brought back to life to tell the story of citizens caught inside the siege ring, reduced to the most desperate means of survival as they waited for spring.
A pleasing combination of assured prose and firsthand accounts from inside the city’s walls.