The Madonnas of Leningrad

Debra Dean     Pages: 228      Published: 2006

The book: Marina, an elderly Russian, lives in the USA with her husband. Her granddaughter is getting married. She is trying to live day to day but ordinary tasks become harder and harder as her mind seems to fail her. Life around her is confusing. Her past life in Russia sometimes seems more real than the present. But what exactly happened in the past? What is it that Marina is remembering?

You might like it because: This is an elegant and beautifully written story about memories, war, the human spirit, the impact art can have on the psyche, and the power and weakness of the human mind.

What did other people say?
“[A] heartfelt debut…[that] switches deftly between the siege and the present…[it is] admirably humane in its determination to restore the dignity Alzheimer’s strips away. What’s more, it largely avoids the sentimentality that mars so much writing about the old and infirm.” – New York Times Book Review

“This is a novel that dares to be beautiful – and fully succeeds.” – Daily Mail (London)

How quickly will you get into the book? This novel didn’t grab me right away, rather it slowly pulled me in. By page 48 I was completely vested and had to know more. Around page 123 the beauty and elegance of Dean’s story construction hit me.

You might not like it because: Central to the story are works of art, in particular paintings of Madonnas in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. Therefore, much time is devoted to describing the art. Some readers might not find this interesting or appealing.
Marina’s story switches between the past and the present as she has flashbacks to war-torn Leningrad. The lack of clear delineation between the two time periods might frustrate readers.

What might you read next?
Read another book set in Russia, this time Moscow during the Russian Revolution, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

Read Falconer by John Cheaver, a writer Dean mentioned in an interview as a favorite of hers.

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