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.)
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