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The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel (P.S.) by…
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The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel (P.S.) (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Debra Dean

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1,4391015,222 (3.84)191
Member:prairiereed
Title:The Madonnas of Leningrad: A Novel (P.S.)
Authors:Debra Dean
Info:Harper Perennial (2007), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:fiction

Work details

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (2006)

  1. 30
    People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks (mrstreme)
    mrstreme: Similar history of how museum workers scrambled to save pieces of art during wartime
  2. 20
    The Siege by Helen Dunmore (Imprinted)
  3. 00
    Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah (kthomp25)
    kthomp25: A fictional account of a woman who lives through the Siege of Leningrad and is separated from family only to find them many years and another lifetime later.
  4. 00
    Through the Burning Steppe: A Wartime Memoir by Elena Kozhina (Imprinted)
    Imprinted: Author Elena Kozhina survived the Siege of Leningrad and grew up to become a curator at the Hermitage Museum.
  5. 00
    Ordeal of the Hermitage: The Siege of Leningrad 1941-1944 by Sergei Varshavsky (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Author resource
  6. 00
    The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad by Harrison E. Salisbury (Imprinted)
  7. 00
    Moving Pictures by Kathryn Immonen (cransell)
  8. 00
    Tinkers by Paul Harding (Limelite)
    Limelite: Another beautiful and deeply satisfying novel about love, memory, and family delivered to the reader through the mind of a dying man. Instead of paintings, his "memory palace" is filled with clocks.
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» See also 191 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Debra Dean’s The Madonnas of Leningrad is a lyrical and elegant novel about Marina, a young tour guide of the Hermitage Museum during the siege of Leningrad during World War II and her present day battle with Alzheimer’s. The novel shifts smoothly between Marina’s life in Leningrad battling starvation and Russian winter and her present day battle with Alzheimer’s while at her granddaughter’s wedding, comparing and contrasting the two life experiences.

During the siege Marina creates a “memory palace”, remembering each and every painting once held in the museum in an effort to keep her own sanity during the war. In present day Seattle, Marina has trouble remembering every day details but can recall intimate details regarding her memory palace. Dean does an excellent job comparing the past with the present and describing the masterpieces of the Hermitage Museum. While we never do learn how Dimtri, Marina’s childhood friend/fiance/husband, reunited with Marina in Germany, this short novel does not disappoint.

This was book was first published in 2007, but I read Dean’s more recent work The Mirrored World first. Both novels have a lyrical, magical quality about them and it is so easy to get lost in the world of these short novel. Dean is a fantastic writer, I look forward to reading more from her in the future.
Review The Artemis Reader

( )
  artemisreads | Jun 7, 2016 |

The Madonnas of Leningrad – Debra Dean
4 stars

(some spoilers ahead)



“Whatever is eating her brain consumes only the fresher memories, the unripe moments”

Initially, I thought this book would be about famous works of art, and it is to some degree. But it is really about the power and pitfalls of memory. Marina is an elderly Russian immigrant living in America. She and her family are experiencing the distressing effects of Alzheimer’s disease. As her memory of recent events decreases, Marina is drawn to her past and memories of the siege of Leningrad.

As a young person, Marina was a docent at the Hermitage Museum. When the Germans invade, she helps to remove the works of art for safe keeping. Along with other museum workers, she and her family evacuate to the cellars of the museum during the bombings and throughout the siege. With the encouragement of an elderly museum attendant, she constructs a detailed, “virtual” memory museum of the missing pictures as a distraction from fear and starvation. At the end of her life, it is not so much the paintings themselves that she remembers, but the act of remembering minute details.

“More distressing than the loss of words is the way that time contracts and fractures and drops her in unexpected places”

Debra Dean reveals Marina’s story in a fragmented way that evokes the mental dysfunction suffered by an individual with Alzheimer’s. Adding to the confusion, it is clear that due to stress and starvation, Marina’s mental health was unstable during the period of WW2 that remains most prominently in her deteriorating brain. All of this combines for a tale with a strong sense of unreality, almost magical realism, in the telling. It was very compelling story.

This book was fascinating and frustrating. I wanted it to be longer. I wanted to know more about how Marina not only managed to survive the siege, but to survive it with a healthy infant. (She was, in fact, one of the Madonnas of Leningrad, and I don’t think Dean worked hard enough to make that relationship to the art work clear.) There is very little development of the contemporary characters in her family. I wanted to know more about her children and her husband. It was a fascinating premise with great historical content. I felt it deserved a bit more depth in its treatment.

( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
4.5 stars - Excellent book about a woman's descent into Alzheimer's, that focuses on what she DOES remember - her life as an art curator at the Hermitage during the Seige of Leningrad.

Dean weaves a lovely portrait of a woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s and her “life” in a world no one else comprehends. At the same time, she informs us of the Seige of Leningrad and the heroic efforts of the staff of the Hermitage to save the priceless art works stored there.

Of course, I cannot help but think of my mother. From her few bursts of conversation, speaking about documents, etc, she must be reliving her years at work. I have to wonder, what secrets was she privy to? What will we never understand about her life, though we were there with her in that time frame?

And there are many questions left for the reader, as they are for the family who survives Marina. Who was “the god” who fathered Andrei? Did Dimitri ever really know the child was not his? Or is that just a trick of Marina’s mind? What happened to Olga? To Anya (who taught her about building a memory palace)? To Dimitri? (He’s not mentioned in the last chapter as having said his good-byes … did he already pass on?) How did she get to the camp?

I think of all the things I don’t know about my parents – how they met, what their lives were like before we were a family – and now I’ll never know because they can no longer answer those questions.

I’m not at all distressed by this book. The last chapter says it best: “Marina herself has left, though no one is able to pinpoint exactly when that happened, only that at some point she was no longer there.” Two years ago I was nearly frantic with worry and concern about my parents. Now I am completely at peace with the process. I completely understand how Helen feels. I wish I understood how my mother feels. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 10, 2016 |
A very touching story that moves back and forth between the horrors of WWII in Russia and present day USA. Marina is in her 80ies and Alzheimers is slowly destroying her understanding of the present. Her youth in Leningrad during the war however is preserved in her mind, where her love of art has helped her survive the terror of the conflict and the death and despair all around her. The book beautifully describes the treasures of the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad, clearly my favourite part. My only complaint would be that the ending is somewhat flat and lets the book down, apart from that I enjoyed it very much. ( )
  SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
The details about the siege of ZLeningrad were interesting and I enjoyed all the descriptions of the art. The book was just really depressing in parts. ( )
  RachelNF | Jan 15, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
Her granddaughter's wedding should be a time of happiness for Marina Buriakov. But the Russian emigre's descent into Alzheimer's has her and her family experiencing more anxiety than joy. As the details of her present-day life slip mysteriously away, Marina's recollections of her early years as a docent at the State Hermitage Museum become increasingly vivid. When Leningrad came under siege at the beginning of World War II, museum workers--whose families were provided shelter in the building's basement--stowed away countless treasures, leaving the painting's frames in place as a hopeful symbol of their ultimate return. Amid the chaos, Marina found solace in the creation of a memory palace, in which she envisioned the brushstroke of every painting and each statue's line and curve. Gracefully shifting between the Soviet Union and the contemporary Pacific Northwest, first-time novelist Dean renders a poignant tale about the power of memory. Dean eloquently describes the works of Rembrandt, Rubens, and Raphael, but she is at her best illuminating aging Marina's precarious state of mind: It is like disappearing for a few moments at a time, like a switch being turned off, she writes. A short while later, the switch mysteriously flips again.
added by kthomp25 | editBooklist, Allison Block
 

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Debra Deanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Middelthon, Elisabet W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwaab, JudithTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060825316, Paperback)

Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.

Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:02 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In a novel that moves back and forth between the Soviet Union during World War II and modern-day America, Marina, an elderly Russian woman, recalls vivid images of her youth during the height of the siege of Leningrad.

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