The Girl from the Hermitage Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mikhail scrapes a knife against the wall and a strip of yellowing floral wallpaper curls on the metal edge, peeling away from the plaster. Cradling it in his palms, glue side up, he returns to the kitchen. He holds the paper over a pot of water and scratches the knife across the brittle surface. Flakes of paste drop into the liquid. Hissing gas fuels a flame. Mikhail clasps his hands around the warm pot. Heat grows, pricking his palms and fingers. He lingers another fraction of a second before pulling them away. Pressing his warm hands to his cold cheeks, heat transfers through his skin, disappearing into his core.
Using a wooden spoon, he stirs and the flakes disintegrate. The smell, papier mâché, reminds him of his student years at Leningrad Academy of Art. As he waits for it to boil, rubbing his hands together in the warm steam, he thinks of his daughter, Galya. This stale old glue is not enough nourishment for her. He scrapes another strip from the corridor wall and scratches more paste into the pot. Holding it in the steam, the paper softens. The water begins to boil. It is not enough. He is useless.
Above the stained sink, three teacups hang from hooks. He scoops a cup into the broth and envelops his hands around it. The warmth seeps through the thin porcelain. Just as the heat starts to bite, he sets the cup on the kitchen table. He unwraps a newspaper parcel and cuts three pieces of bread, each about the size of a die, and places them in a shallow bowl. He folds paper around the remaining bread, which is smaller than his palm, and sets it aside. Hunger stabs at his stomach.
Taking the broth and bread, Mikhail walks down the kommunalka’s dark corridor. As he passes the door of the Kamerovs’ room to his left, Vera’s eyes meet his. The little girl, covered in several blankets, wears a pink knitted hat. She waves to him.
‘Can I get up, Mikhail Tarasovich?’ she asks.
‘Stay nice and warm in bed, Vera. You must rest. Conserve your energy.’
‘Your mother will be home soon, don’t worry.’
‘Can’t I play with Galya?’
‘Not now. She’s not well. We don't want you to get ill too.’
Vera sighs and her lower lip pouts. Her head, which looks too big for her tiny frame, drops.
Mikhail continues down the hall, past the flat’s main entrance on his right, and enters his room at the end of the corridor, leaving the door open behind him. Galya, buried under wool blankets, lies in her bed at the foot of his mattress. Only her brown hair is visible. He sets the cup and bread on a table beside her and presses his hand to her forehead and cheeks. She shivers from his touch.
‘Drink this slowly,’ he says, propping up her pillow and pulling the blankets around her. He hands her the cup, which has already cooled in the chilly flat.
Galya purses her chapped lips and takes a sip. Limp hair frames her gaunt face. Mikhail pinches one of the pieces of bread in half and gives it to Galya. She puts it in her mouth, leaving it on her tongue; she does not chew. She waits for it to dissolve slowly, making it last. Her hands, streaked with blue veins, cradle the porcelain cup. They look smaller but Mikhail knows this is impossible. Her bones cannot be shrinking.
He stands, walks to the window and pulls back the black fabric covering the glass. Although it is only one o’clock, the light is growing dim.
‘Galya, I have to go for more water. It’s getting dark.’
She takes another sip and nods.
‘Anna Petrovna should be back soon. I don't like to leave you but we need water.’ He knows it is dangerous to procrastinate; tomorrow brings uncertainty. It can, and probably will, be worse.
Setting the cup on the table, Galya sinks beneath the blankets and closes her eyes.
Mikhail looks again at the snowy street below, hoping to see Anna. Worry creeps into his thoughts. She has been out longer than he expected.
‘I’ll be as fast as I can.’ But he knows he will move slowly along the icy road.
He kisses her cheek and she smiles.
‘Don’t worry. I’ll look after Vera,’ she whispers.
‘Stay in bed and rest. And finish your soup.’
He returns to the kitchen, collects a pail and the kettle, and he walks down the corridor.
‘I heard you,’ calls Vera.
Mikhail stops at the Kamerovs’ door.
‘Will Mama be back soon?’ she asks.
He nods. ‘Don’t be afraid. Galya is in our room.’
He puts on his heavy coat. His scarf is draped over the radiator, which has not worked in weeks. The wool is still damp and will quickly turn icy cold in the wind. His wife’s loosely knit angora shawl hangs on the peg beside his coat. He winds the cloud of creamy soft fibres around his neck, immediately feeling its warmth. The scent of her hair and lilac perfume makes his throat tighten. How long will Elena’s scent linger now that she is gone?
‘Don’t open the door to anyone. Anna Petrovna has a key. I’ll be right back,’ he says, fastening his buttons.
Mikhail takes off his slippers, slides his feet into tall felt boots and stomps, willing them to warm quickly. He opens the door, steps out onto the landing and hesitates, hoping to hear Anna’s footsteps scuffing the dusty stairs. But the stairway is silent. He locks the door and heads down the four flights.
- Publication Date : April 23, 2020
- File Size : 1591 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 289 pages
- Publisher : Lightning Books (April 23, 2020)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B087BZSXN5
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #968,075 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Gartland's depiction of those still moments in the midst of a crisis was never overwrought, the pacing never lagged. I came away especially reflective on the power of food as communion. From the simplest, most desolate scraps of woody bread and wallpaper soup to a divine Russian feast of borscht and carp, food--in both its scarcity and abundance--plays an integral role. It's practically a secondary character, always there to contrast Galina's place in the timeline.
The recurring theme of excess is so potent, I could almost feel the characters' stomach pains. Young Galina cries because the two privileged sons of the colonel eat so well while the rest of the city starves. That same sentiment resonates in a scene, many years later, when a man addresses a flock of begging ducks. Ducks are even mistaken as the occupants of the background of the painting at the center of the story, again reminding us of the theme. Why do we want so much more than what we have?
Art has power. It can be a shelter. It can be a ghost. It can transport you to a time and a place, conjuring memories that you alone possess. Gartland's novel is a celebration of those memories and, indeed, of the power of art. It was a timely shelter in the time of sheltering at home.
accurate and the author makes me feel present at each period. I sure did get hungry during the seige
The Girl From the Hermitage is told through the lens of girl during WW2 and how her life evolves into modern Russian with the break down of the Soviet Union.
Its not too heavy on history but chronicles the family's transition through the decades of radical change. I await the sequel to know where the family is today : )
Top reviews from other countries
I found this book to be very well written and believable. I became fully immersed in the story as the scenes are so eloquently depicted for us and the characters are brought to life. Thanks to lockdown I indulged myself, and read it in only a few sittings.
I often forget about books once I've read them, but I think this story will stay with me.
I hope there is more to come!
Galina, as a small girl, experiences the bitter deprivations of life during the Siege of Leningrad and this sets the tone for her subsequent adventures.
The book is a must for lovers of history and art and also food, which is described in all its gory and glorious detail.