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The Siege: A Novel Hardcover – January 9, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Siege is one of those novels that is as redemptive as it is shattering, and they don't come much more shattering than this. The year is 1941, and the good people of Leningrad are squeezed between fear of Stalin's secret police and rumors that the Germans, despite the incredulity of military experts, are rapidly advancing on their great city. When the inevitable happens, 22-year-old Anna, an artist and the sole support for her young brother, invalid father, and the latter's former mistress, learns to survive the devastation and mass starvation that the siege brings. In the worst days of winter, Anna falls in love with a doctor, Andrei, who returns her passion, creating an oasis of emotional privacy within the hell of war. The Siege is expertly anchored in sometimes unbearable details of the assault on Leningrad; the book's sense of place and the author's great skill at pumping immediacy into the cold facts is something to behold. But this is, finally, a novel about extremes of experience, from rampant cruelty to the redemptive power of one person's love. --Tom Keogh

From Publishers Weekly

In a novel whose every observation is so sharp the words almost hurt, Dunmore (Talking to the Dead) takes a giant step away from her praised domestic psychological dramas set in England. This urgent narrative brings shocking news, although the events Dunmore chronicles took place six decades ago, and mirror ancient, universal struggles. It's 1941; Leningrad is under siege by the German army and the relentless winter. Thousands will starve or freeze before the spring, but Dunmore shuns the moral numbness of numbers. She compels us to live inside the skin of Anna Levin, a 23-year-old artist and nursery-schoolteacher. In chaste yet shimmering prose, Dunmore conveys the sourness of Anna's hunger, her anguish over whether to eat an onion immediately or save it to sprout so that her five-year-old brother, Kolya, may have the precious vitamins in the shoots. Anna's mother died when Kolya was born, and Anna must also feed her ailing father, the writer Mikhail, who has fallen out of favor with the government. As winter closes in, his one-time mistress, the faded, gallant actress, Marina, joins their household, bringing her precious hoard of cloudberry jam. Andrei, a physician who loves Anna, stumbles home from brutal days at the hospital to help huddle Kolya against the interminable icy nights. Lauded by the British critics last year, the novel is a signal achievement, and Anna is a true heroine for our times - tender in love, passionate in art, unyielding in her will to survive. (Jan.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st American ed edition (January 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802117007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802117007
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #683,275 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who lies historical fiction.
gramsreads
She punches us with her descriptions and compels us to look at suffering and survival and seek meaning where there seems to be only despair, self interest and cruelly.
Dennis Cooper
This book is very well written, characters are well-developed, historical context is well-integrated.
Gingersnap

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Cooper on January 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Set during the blockade of Leningrad in World War II, Ms. Dunmore's novel "The Siege" attacks and bombards our sensibilities as no other book in recent memory. Beginning with the Nazi attack of Russia on June 22, 1941, the story examines and portrays the ordeals of the Levin family as they struggle to stay alive and keep their humanity during the longest siege and blockade in modern warfare. Initially, the Levins are caught between the excesses of Stalin's purges and the fury of the German attack. Quickly, the enemy becomes the shelling, the starvation and the cold. Dunmore's prose travels deep within the emotions, fears and thoughts of the characrters to illuminate suffering as no other historical tract has rendered. The voices of all her characters speak to us and transfer us to an umimaginable time when madness and cruelly ruled. Dunmore gives the reader enough of the historical context of the Siege of Leningrad (Luga defenses, Pavlov's rationing, "road of life" across Ladoga, etc;) for our sense of time and place, but the book primarily examines the emotions and human politics of survival.
While her language is direct as a bullet, there is a smokey-poetic quality to it that curls around our senses and forces a painful understanding. Yet, there is no saccharine sentimentality to her narrative, nor are we seduced with maudlin pathos or pity. She punches us with her descriptions and compels us to look at suffering and survival and seek meaning where there seems to be only despair, self interest and cruelly. "The Siege" is at once troubling and uplifting; ugly and fair; compassionate and cruel. As deep as our hearts, it is a book for our souls.
On a personal note, I have stood at the mass graves of Piskarevskaya many times seeking some insight into the sacrifice.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazonbombshell on July 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I can't give it five stars, because while I very much enjoyed the book while reading it, whenever I stopped, I didn't want to start again. Probably that has something to do with the hopeless and depressing tone of most of the novel, and is therefore not a fair reason, but I like books that grab and won't let me go until I turn the last page. This one grabbed me, but I kept wanting to put it down anyway.
About the depression: don't let it put you off too much. THE SIEGE is extremely well written, and it's amazing power lies mainly in Dunmore's uncanny ability to detail the harsh effects of war (namely hunger and desperation) on ordinary people. There are small overtures to hope, especially near the end, but for the most part, Dunmore has set out to overwhelm and horrify and possibly frighten us, and she has succeeded, painfully. She even managed to make me feel guilty for having more than a piece of bread to eat every day, for never having known the desperation of boiling wallpaper paste and chewing on leather to extract what few nutrients it might yield. This is stark, almost hurtful, and amazingly good writing.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bill Corporandy on September 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a very powerful novel with striking, deeply affecting prose descriptions of the suffering of the people of Leningrad during the two and a half year siege they underwent at the hands of the Germans in WWII. Most of the focus is on the love and sacrifices of a mother for her son. I was a bit surprised that there seemed to be little actual fighting depicted here but in reality it was mostly a long seige with much bombing. The will to live becomes a noble pursuit in itself, the decision that death will not be on the Germans terms. Of course, much of the plot of the novel is about situations that are forced on people by the enemy and also by their own totalitarian government---but the small, tragic, and occasionally triumphant choices that people do make give the novel added meaning and power--they are not merely swept up in the tide of events--what Anatoli Rybakov called the Heavy Sand of 20th Century Russian history. This is recommended reading as is the long section on the siege of Leningrad in Alexander Werth's great WWII history, Russia at War.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Steve Umstead on July 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very dramatic and emotional story. The reader really cares about Anna, little Kolya, and the rest of her family as they struggle to survive this horrific ordeal. I was particularly moved by the way Anna reflects on the things that she once took for granted - her father reading poetry, cloudberry jam, bread that is fresh and plentiful. The author presents the unspeakable conditions of the siege of Leningrad while always holding out the thin breath of survival in the characters and makes us count our blessings in the bargain.
I highly recommend this to any historical fiction reader.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
"The Siege" is absolutely brilliant and Helen's Dunmore's masterpiece. How such a luminously crafted and finely imagined work of historical fiction can be overlooked in the annual book award stakes in favour of showier but less deserving titles is something presumably only those familiar with the internal politics of book critic awards can understand.
"The Siege" is a story about a family who endured and partially survived the extremities of cold, hunger and other devastating hardships inflicted on the people of Leningrad when their city came under siege by the Germans in 1941. The horror of the opening transcript of German intent prepares us for what follows. The opening chapters describe the buzz of ordinary lives albeit under the tyranny of the country's own leadership. Nobody trusts anyone. Even neighbours stay away from those in suspect professions (eg, artists and journalists). But life was still good, you can smell the scent of flowers in the air and the natural aroma of fresh fruit and vegetables from the ground. All this will disappear when the Germans suddenly attack, supplies are cut off , the city is frozen solid, stocks run down and people are reduced to starvation and using their furniture and books as fuel for heating as winter encroaches. Scenes of how healthy adults and bonny children turn into emaciated skeletons, scrabble around for broken bits of wood, boil their leather belts for nutrients, etc will guarantee that you will never again leave any morsel of food uneatened on your dinner plate.
We experience the siege of Leningrad through the lives of Anna and her family (her doctor lover Andrei, invalid writer father, his actress mistress Marina and baby brother Kolya). Dunmore's touch of feminism shows through in her vivid characterisation.
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