- Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 16 December 2010
- Modern & Contemporary
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"Now it's June, and night is brief as the brush of a wing, only an hour of yellow stars in a sky that never darkens beyond deep, tender blue.No one sleeps. Crowds surge out of cafes and wander the streets, not caring where they go as long as they can lift their faces and drink in the light. It's been dark for so many months."Is it possible to write a beautiful book about hunger, deprivation, the depths of human savagery and the extreme limits of our will to survive? Helen Dunmore has done it with The Siege. It's 1941 and in this giddy with light Leningrad (St. Petersburg) "there's the crumple of artillery, far off, then suddenly not so far off", as the Germans advance. Eventually the city will be sealed off from the outside world, and the siege will begin.Twenty-two year old Anna's mother has died after giving birth to her 5 year old brother Kolya, and after her writer-father Mikhail is injured, it is up to Anna to do all she can to ensure their survival as General Winter and General Hunger advance. New words are flying about: "Strategic defences. Signing up. Immediate danger of invasion. Crisis." Tanks are coming with "the wicked little snouts of their guns swivelling to get you in their sights." The slights and frustrations of thought-oppressing socialism become irrelevant as every day dwindles to one overarching principle: survival.How to find food, how to stay warm, what is essential, and what is not. "Without a ration card, you die for certain. With one, you may die too, but the land of not-dying remains open to you." In this city of desperation, an unlikely romance blossoms between Anna and Andrei, who is studying to become a doctor. He works endless hours at the "hospital" (or what they have retained amidst the bombing), but comes to spend any time he can with Anna, and Kolya, and their father, and an old actress acquaintance of her father's who has found her way into their lives.Helen Dunmore obviously did an exceptional amount of research to bring this story to life. The details are compelling - the mixed feelings as people die and there are fewer mouths to feed, how best to take advantage of a deceased's ration card, the joy of finding a jar of jam, the savagery in claiming pieces of wood from a bombed-out building to burn for warmth. The importance of small kindnesses, and friendship, the sordidness of black marketers extracting every possible item of value from the pockets of the impoverished. The desperate choices that must be made in the interest of life over death.This is an extraordinary book. It relates an episode in history that surely is worthy of our understanding and remembrance. But it is the author's poetic depiction of how such unimaginable exigencies are met by a populace with no choice that lays siege to the heart and requires us to respond fully, without reservation.
[The Siege] is a haunting and seamless blend of history, suffering, despair and hope. Dunmore creates a vivid picture of a nearly unimaginable event in a time and place far removed from that which is familiar to the reader. You are there. She breathes life into her characters even as they are dying. Those who fail and fade are the unfortunate, fragile victims unable to beat the odds. The survivors reached deeper than they ever imagined possible to find their inner mental and physical strength. Everything is a life-defining struggle. Every decision, every action, every unexpected encounter brings life or death.“The sky flares briefly into sunset as Anna trudges on. The snow burns blue and crimson, then the light dies. There are only a few wild-looking streaks of red left in the sky. And over there, that red that burns more fiercely, it must be a fire started by German shells... Because there is no water to put the fire out, [the fires] burn until they die of their own accord. The wind is rising, though it’s not fierce yet. It burns Anna’s face as she makes her way onward, back bent, dragging the heavy sledge. Only a few hundred meters now. Soon she’ll be home… Anna stops. She looks up at the sky, and fine, icy snow patters into her face. Her legs shake. Is it just the snow falling, or is she losing her balance? She clenches the rope. She’s still standing. She won’t fall. She’ll make it to the corner, then to the first lamp post, then the next.”No doubt about it. This book is a solid 5 stars for me. It is beautiful and terrible. Very highly recommended.
Great survival story set during the German seige of Leningrad. Those Russians are tough.
The author effectively captures the Siege of Leningrad and allows the reader to experience it through the eyes of Anna, a young woman who with her father, younger brother, her father's mistress, and a young man from Siberia are caught in the Seige. Some survive, some don't.The writing is clean and cold; sentences are short and direct. There is almost a lack of emotion throughtout the book (perhaps that is why some reviewers say they cannot connect with the characters), but the style of writing, I feel, is what makes "The Seige" so realistic. It was an unbelieveably terrible time for everyone; for the soldiers as well as the civilians. The author includes short chapters which provide a views from the "officials" or soldiers. This works to strengthen the story as told by Anna.I'm not up on my WWII history and truthfully, knew nothing about this particular event of the War; much of WWII historical fiction centers on the Holocaust. This story certainly adds another perspective of what was truly a terrible time in history. Warning, the story is not pretty, but it is not unbearable nor is it depressing. There is a strength and respect for those that endured this horrible time.For those interested in the Siege of Leningrad, check out The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel (P.S.)
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