The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

Review published on January 3, 2018.

Following her tragic death, I have been feasting upon the gems from this marvellous author.

We first met Anna and Andrei during The Siege and I was keen to see what Dunmore had written to follow up their lives after the tragedies that engulfed them during the harsh winter siege of Leningrad 1941/42.

Now it is 1952 and talented hospital doctor Andrei and nursery assistant Anna are trying to build a new life caring for Anna’s brother Kolya.

But life under Stalin and his internal cronies and spies is very precarious as the big brother tentacles of Russia’s Ministry of State Security reach into everyone’s lives.

Guided by his medical ethics Andrei agrees to help with the treatment of senior police officer Volkov’s son, but is soon swept into danger that will engulf all of his family.

The intricate building of fear and the resolve of ordinary people to try and overcome a terrifying regime is wonderfully set by the author. The reality of the situation is reflected in our knowledge as was the author’s research that such fear, death and torture was often only a door knock away from so many innocent Russian citizens.

I learnt more about Russia at this time from these two novels by Helen Dunmore than any history books and for me both these two novels were highlights of my reading year.

I am sure book clubs reading both would have much to discuss about Andrei and Anna and the post-war realities of Stalin’s Russia and it remains a terrible tragedy that this wonderful author can no longer turn her pen to other areas of life into which to reveal such incisive writing.

Philipa Coughlan 5/5

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
Penguin 9780141046839 pbk Feb 2011

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