Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review - The Madonnas of Leningrad

By Debra Dean
In the fall of 1941, the German army begins what would become the 900 day siege of Leningrad, Russia. Leningrad, also known as St. Petersburg, is home of the Hermitage Museum. It is up to staff members of the Museum, such as a young Marina, to save the numerous masterpieces from the Nazi forces. She, along with thousands of other workers, endure incessant German bombing, constant hunger, frigid temperatures, and daily exhaustion to successfully resist Hitler’s directive No. 1601 ordering that “St. Petersburg must be erased from the face of the Earth.” 
Fast forward to some sixty years later when Marina is attending  her granddaughter’s wedding. Marina is confused as to the present but “Her distant past is preserved, better than preserved. Moments that occurred in Leningrad sixty-some years ago reappear, vivid, plump, and perfumed.”
How Marina remembers the paintings of the Madonnas of Leningrad is an integral part of the book. The juxtaposition of Marina’s confusion to the present and Marina’ vivid memory of the past is another important aspect of the book. Debra Dean’s meticulous research allows the reader to see the Hermitage’s paintings in great detail. The author’s depiction of those with Alzheimer’s is told with beauty and with unexpected humor.
In the end, The Madonnas of Leningrad, is a book about how we remember and how those memories serve us. Her words remind us that memory is precious and can make us cry and laugh in ways we might never predict.

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