Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review of The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

The Madonnas of Leningrad
Debra Dean
Harper Collins
256 pages
ISBN 13:9780060825317

Marina doesn’t recognize her daughter but can picture clearly the residents of the Hermitage museum during 1941 as Hitler marched on Russia, she can’t comprehend that the woman standing before her is her granddaughter and yet she can see the faces of her cousins as they board the busses leaving Leningrad, can still feel the anguish of their mother and the resolve of their father, she sees before her a spread of food and thinks it’s a dream because she remembers like yesterday the starvation of a whole city during one terrible winter.
Set in modern day Seattle Ms. Dean takes us into the cloudy web of the mind of a woman who’s lived through mindless tragedy, unspeakable degradation and survived to tell the tale only to be ravaged by another foe that will make her forget, but she doesn’t stop there she takes us into the heart of this family and how they cope with a mother who’s not all there anymore and a father who won’t let her go. She does this by spending a chapter in the present and one in the past to show us the continuity of her story and then to show us further the effect on the victim some of the chapters meld together in one confusing episode. Her narrative is haunting, it’s raw, it’s terrifying and it’s beautiful, it’s love in the first degree between Dimitri and Marina and she captures that feeling no better than on page 119 where Dimitri says  of Marina “She was his country and he hers. They were inseparable”. Her descriptions of war torn Leningrad and her dying people is horrifyingly realistic and yet she also brings forth the utter stubbornness of this people who refuse to give up as they go through they’re daily routines even as they slowly die.
It’s a love story, it’s a tragedy, it’s a story of life and the end of it. It’s a tale of literary fiction that you will find yourself coming back to time and time again.
It’s important to not forget that there are works out there that are not hot off the presses that need to be discovered or in my case rediscovered, like this one.
Buy the book here.


  1. Thanks Debbie - It was a wonderful read. The journey that Marina, her family and the reader go on are beautiful, ugly and all too human. I'm so glad that I read this and many thanks for introducing me to this book.