Saturday, May 30, 2009
The Madonnas Of Leningrad by Debra Dean
Debra Dean tells the story of Marina and Dmitri, Russians caught up in WWII, in The Madonnas of Leningrad. They become engaged just as Dmitri is called up to fight the Germans. They are separated for three years after that, with no idea if the other was dead or alive. While Dmitri is off at war, Marina, a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum, lives in the cellar of the Museum to avoid the daily bombing of Leningrad by the Germans. Hundreds of others live there also, and as the months go by, they slowly start to die off from starvation.
Marina gets through this time by continuing to walk through the nearly empty museum each day. The majority of the artwork has been shipped elsewhere for safety. In her mind, she builds a memory building, where she correctly places each piece in its former location. She spends hours a day living in her memory.
After the war, the lovers are reunited and make their way to America, where they raise two children. Now, sixty years later, the children are trying to decide how to take care of their parents. Marina, who lived by her memory, is now a victim of Alzheimer's disease, and every day a bit more of her memory is taken from her. The book's climax occurs when Marina wanders off and gets lost, as many Alzheimer's patients do.
This was a wonderful book. Besides the compelling relationships, the reader is treated to a glimpse at the gorgeous artwork of the Hermitage, a place where very few Americans will ever view in person. This added dimension provides the framework on which the story is structured. This book is recommended for everyone.