The Siege by Helen Dunmore

Review published on December 12, 2017.

The legacy left by this marvellous writer is so clearly evident in this timely novel (a Christmas season that will shatter our times of greed and materialism) which sees life – and so much death – in the winter of 1941 as Leningrad is bombarded by German forces and the fate of its citizens encapsulated through the lives of Anna and her family.

Anna lives with her novelist/poet father in Leningrad, having lost their mother in childbirth to brother Kolya. She is a hardworking and industrious nursery assistant who yearns for love but sees the practicality of her fate, especially as the German forces advance on the city.

Having visited her father’s friend Marina at her dacha in the country, enjoying the fresh air and food of the fields as well as her talents for drawing, the family now have to live in their tiny apartment with food dwindling and life becoming increasingly harsher as the winter draws on.

In reality, over 600,000 people are thought to have died during the siege of Leningrad from Sept 1941-1944, with over 4000 in the city dying from starvation (alimentary dystrophy to give it its medical term) alone on Christmas Day 1941.

Dunmore writes wonderfully of the shared desperation as Anna meets Andrei, a doctor who is trying to save lives whilst  bodies pile up daily in the frozen snow.

But this is not a gruesome read. It has tremendous hope for humanity despite the ravages of war. The ability to survive and to love and nourish beyond what is expected is magnificently portrayed through this family situation as we learn of the ways the city itself tried to survive.

I think this is a book reading groups would enjoy immensely and it brings to the fore a part of WWII history many may not be familiar with. It’s a fantastic personal read and one of my favourite this year. The follow up, The Betrayal, is already on my pile of books ‘to be read’.

Philipa Coughlan 5/5

The Siege by Helen Dunmore
Penguin 9780241952191 pbk May 2002

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