The Siege by Helen Dunmore
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The Siege tells the historical story of The Siege of Leningrad primarily through the eyes of a 23 year - old Leningrad woman named Anna, although we also view the Siege via her family. During WW 11, for 900 days ,the German army surrounded Leningrad and essentially cut off all supplies including fuel and food. Anna, her family and all of Leningrad endeavor to survive.
The Siege is an amazing and powerful story. Using no fewer than 17 sources listed in the author's bibliography, it is difficult to believe that author Helen Dunmore was not a prisoner of The Siege herself. Although the story is many times heartrendingly tragic, it is also pleasingly lacking in sentimentality , which can so often bog down a a book.
The twin forces of starvation and bitter cold conspire to kill many people during the Siege. People died while sleeping in their homes , while out lined up for rations, or simply falling into a snowbank due to exhaustion and hunger. Anna and her family resort to boiling shoe leather for protein and burning furniture and books for heat. Usually I am not keen on romance in novels, but the two love stories in this book are very understated and integral to understanding the forces of love and hope that are part of the will to survive.
The Siege is a deeply affecting , a very worthwhile piece of historical fiction and destined to be one of my top reads of 2012.
In The Siege the father, a writer, is keeping a diary during the beginning days of the siege of Leningrad. He writes:
"it was depressing to see such crowds, their faces animal and desperate, waving their pass-books, fighting past each other to get to the bank doors..." "You have a certain idea of yourself: what you'll do, and what you won't do. It's hard enough to hold on to it."
The Year of Wonders examines how the inhabitants of a small village deal with the horror of the plague. Some turn against their neighbors, some run, but many promise the Rector to stay and fight. "And so the rest of us set about learning to live in the wide green prison of our own election."
Even though I didn't like Dunmore's With Your Crooked Heart, I was convinced to read this book by some very enthusiastic recommendations here on LT. And am I glad I did! I almost literally couldn't put this book down, although it tells the devastating story of the first winter of the nearly 900-day siege of Leningrad, through the eyes of Anna, a 23-year-old who is responsible for her father and her 5-year-old brother. Solidly based in historical fact (there's a bibliography at the end), and yet beautifully and compellingly written, this novel shows the horror of starvation and temperatures well below zero, the fierce determination of the Russian people, and the power of love and of the will to survive despite the combined onslaught of "General Hunger" and "General Winter." Nonetheless, the novel ends in the spring of 1942, with nearly two years of the siege still to go. This book has added to my knowledge of and interest in what happened on the eastern front in World War II and the impact that had on the world we have been living in since then.