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The Siege by Helen Dunmore
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The Siege (2001)

by Helen Dunmore

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7854311,730 (3.89)1 / 495
  1. 30
    The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (gennyt)
    gennyt: Both are stories of cities under siege, and the struggles of ordinary people for survival in dangerous and extreme conditions.
  2. 20
    The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean (Imprinted)
  3. 10
    The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes (charl08)
    charl08: Linked by the experience of 'the terror'.
  4. 00
    Through the Burning Steppe: A Wartime Memoir by Elena Kozhina (Imprinted)
  5. 00
    The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad by Harrison E. Salisbury (Imprinted)
  6. 00
    The Life of an Unknown Man by Andreï Makine (GoST)
    GoST: Another historical novel about starvation and survival during the Siege of Leningrad.
  7. 00
    The Conductor by Sarah Quigley (avatiakh)
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English (41)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  All (43)
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
The Siege describes the horrors and devastation experienced by the people who lived through the Siege of Leningrad during WWII. Dunmore chooses to keep a narrow focus to the book, telling the story of a young woman named Anna, her much younger brother Kolya who is like a son to her, her father, and a family friend, Marina, who ends up living with them through the siege. There is a good lead-up to the siege so that you really feel interested in the characters relationships with each other and bothered by the direction that the Soviet regime has taken in controlling the population. Then, as the siege begins in September and winter sets in, the twin tortures of starvation and freezing take precedence and all that was being developed in the beginning falls away. Survival is all there is.

This book ends after about 8 months of the siege when the first winter ends in May. It ends sort of hopefully but my memory made me skeptical. In looking up the Siege of Leningrad, I found that the Siege would continue for almost 2.5 years total. Possibly 3 million people died between the people who stayed and those who tried to evacuate, most unsuccessfully. The first winter that is described in this book was the worst stretch where people were allotted only 125 grams of bread, which I think is about 2 normal slices, per day. Of course, this measly amount of food was in reality even less because it was full of sawdust or similar.

Realizing that the events described in this book were really only the beginning and that there would be almost 2 more years of similar conditions is truly horrifying. But as Stalin supposedly said (albeit about a different starvation), "If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that is a statistic." Dunmore has tried to reverse this idea, telling a deeply personal story of one small family and not muddying the waters by broadening the scope of the book too wide. ( )
  japaul22 | Jun 17, 2017 |
This is a magnificent and haunting novel set during the terrible siege of Leningrad, when the city was blockaded by the Germans during the bleak winter of 1941-2 and at least a million citizens starved or froze to death. The novel follows the fortunes of an unusual family grouping, nursery assistant Anna, her young brother Kolya, along with their father Mikhail, a minor author and Mikhail's ex-lover Marina, a former actress, both of whose careers had been blighted by the brutal hand of Stalinist artistic and cultural conformity. They are later joined by Andrei, a doctor struggling against the odds to preserve some human decencies and do what was possible to preserves lives against the brutal cold and lack of food. The novel hauntingly and chillingly describes the struggles they all face to extract a bit of warmth from finding and burning any combustible material, from Mikhail's books to chunks of wood from bombed out buildings; and to extract any nutrition by making the tiny bread ration last, and boiling leather to make soup. All the while, human values are disintegrating as people turn against each other in the struggle for survival. The city was eventually relieved as the winter continued through lorry conveys bringing in supplies over the frozen Lake Ladoga, the "road of life". The siege lasted 900 days in total (as famously recounted by US journalist Harrison Salisbury), but never got as bad as during that first terrible winter.

The author Helen Dunmore died last week and it is sad that there will be no more brilliantly written novels from her pen. The only previous novel of hers I have read, The Lie, was good but with a slightly disappointing ending. This however was superb and I will seek out more of her novels (I already have The Betrayal, the sequel to the Siege, and two others, Counting the Stars and House of Orphans). ( )
  john257hopper | Jun 11, 2017 |
Helen Dunmore is a stunning writer and this story was haunting. I will read more of this author's writing. ( )
  Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
Helen Dunmore is a stunning writer and this story was haunting. I will read more of this author's writing. ( )
  Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
I just realised I've read two Orange Prize nominated books in a row. Although the last one actually won it, I prefer this shortlisted one. But don't wildly love this either. It's sort of 'nice'. Which is an alarming thing to be saying of a book that writes of starvation and savagery during the Siege of Leningrad. But it writes about it in such a civilised way. There's bucket loads of descriptive prose, but for such a potentially gripping subject, I felt completely ungripped. The characters never felt real, and I remained unmoved. Not a book that moves in the same way as my brain apparently! ( )
  evilmoose | Dec 13, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
The Siege is an agonising read, but also a numbing one. The novel, which narrates the first and worst winter of a siege that lasted from 1941 until 1944, animates the senses in order to feel them shutting down.
added by kake | editThe Guardian, John Mullan (Feb 5, 2011)
 
[L]anguage that is elegantly, starkly beautiful. . . quieter and more powerful than her earlier work.
 
In limpid and careful prose, with an intermittently choric narrator, Dunmore presents a community in travail.
added by kake | editThe Independent (Jun 16, 2001)
 
Admirers of Dunmore's thrillers such as Talking to the Dead and With Your Crooked Heart may be disappointed by her decision to wrestle with the raw materials of history. Nevertheless, it is the lasting achievement of The Siege convincingly to narrate a horrifying war story from the point of view of the hearth, not the trenches.
added by kake | editThe Observer, Michael Williams (Jun 10, 2001)
 
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To Ros Cuthbert
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Re: The future of Leningrad

...The Fuehrer has decided to have Leningrad wiped from the face of the earth.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0802139582, Paperback)

The Siege is one of those novels that is as redemptive as it is shattering, and they don't come much more shattering than this. The year is 1941, and the good people of Leningrad are squeezed between fear of Stalin's secret police and rumors that the Germans, despite the incredulity of military experts, are rapidly advancing on their great city. When the inevitable happens, 22-year-old Anna, an artist and the sole support for her young brother, invalid father, and the latter's former mistress, learns to survive the devastation and mass starvation that the siege brings. In the worst days of winter, Anna falls in love with a doctor, Andrei, who returns her passion, creating an oasis of emotional privacy within the hell of war. The Siege is expertly anchored in sometimes unbearable details of the assault on Leningrad; the book's sense of place and the author's great skill at pumping immediacy into the cold facts is something to behold. But this is, finally, a novel about extremes of experience, from rampant cruelty to the redemptive power of one person's love. --Tom Keogh

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:53 -0400)

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Leningrad, September 1941: German forces surround the city, imprisoning those who live there. The besieged people of Leningrad face shells, starvation and the Russian winter.

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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