THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD by Debra Dean

THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD

KIRKUS REVIEW

As Alzheimer’s slowly erases Marina’s world, her past in wartime Leningrad begins to again take form around her.

In 1941, as Hitler besieged and bombed Leningrad, Marina was one of hundreds of workers in the Hermitage dedicated to preserving its vast art collection from destruction. Day and night, she and her colleagues dismantle frames, move furniture, pack and ship objects. Most are women and many are old, and as the bombing becomes more intense, they all move with their families to the basement of the museum. A winter of legendary ferocity descends; the food stores of the city are destroyed; there is no sign of the blockade lifting. People eat pine needles, bark, and finally their own pets. To cling to her sense of the value of life, young Marina begins to assemble a mental version of the Hermitage, committing the paintings, and their placement, to memory. Sixty years later, this “memory palace” will be all that is left in Marina’s memory, a filter through which she sees a world she no longer understands as a series of beautiful objects. In her debut, Dean has created a respectful and fascinating image of Alzheimer’s. The story of the older Marina—mustering her failing powers in a war for dignity, struggling to make reality without recollection—makes the war sequences seem almost hackneyed in comparison. And when Dean falters, it is by pushing the emotive war material into the territory of hysteria.

A thoughtful tragedy that morphs into a tear-jerker in the third act.

Pub Date: March 14th, 2006
ISBN: 0-06-082530-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2005




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