08 December 2011

The Madonnas of Leningrad ~ Debra Dean


Take me to the Hermitage!
Recommended by Jeannie

This was a gem. The narrative had two threads, present and past, and I found both to be of equal interest.

The "present" thread presented the sad, sad story of the onset of Alzheimer's eating away at the fabric of existence, with old age robbing you of your family and your dignity. This was poignantly told. Not over sentimentalised and very touching. Marina was drifting away into her past. There was also a sadness in the fact that we are simultaneously being told of this past yet she had never passed this personal history on to her children.

The "past" thread was Marina's experiences at the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad during the German siege in World War 2. The horrors of war and the deprivations and resilience of the people are brilliantly counterbalanced by the richness of the artwork of the museum. I am not particularly into art (call me a philistine) but this book left you craving a visit to the Hermitage (or any art gallery!). Marina is involved in packing away the artworks for protection. She walks through the emptied galleries committing the works to memory by visualising and describing them. These descriptions are detailed and vivid.

This was a book where I audibly groaned when I turned the page and found it was the end!