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Vera Inber, a poet, kept this diary during the 900-day siege of Leningrad. Soon after the German invasion she accompanied her husband there following his appointment as director of an important medical institute. The diary is remarkable for its cool self-possession and lack of any ""poetical"" arabesques. The winter of 1941 -- its air raids, its terrible hunger, its awful quiet bemuse trams, radios, and dogs and cats are all gone, its piles of anonymous corpses -- is recorded with incomparable detachment, but not without fear and personal tragedy -- her grandchild dies and the Germans overrun her native Odessa. Inber had her work to absorb her -- she wrote an epic poem during these years, which unfortunately is not reproduced -- and she was important enough to travel even during this holocaust: in February 1942 she went to the front, in April and July to a writers' conference and a morale-building reading in Moscow. ""I am able to write as never before."" By November 1942 the question of day-to-day survival is less desperate, the news of Stalingrad comes, hopes for a second front rise; Inber joins the Party; there is wine at the New Year's celebration. But as the Germans are routed the shelling of Leningrad intensifies and the threat of death is imminent until the end. This is far from a ""typical"" account, of course; the ultra-English translation heightens the stiff-lipped tone of the diary, but there is no question that Inber's inner resources helped by her material comforts were extraordinary. It is incredible to think that she could have quite easily left Leningrad for good at any time. Altogether a strong, if not historically revelatory, memoir.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1972
Publisher: St. Martin's Press