Madonnas of Leningrad

Title:  Madonnas of Leningrad

Author:  Debra Dean

Publisher:  William Morrow, 2006

Summary: First, thanks to Claudia Silk, our discussion leader of the Woods Book Group, for choosing this title because I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise.  How did I miss it when it first came out?!?

Madonnas of Leningradis the story of Marina Buriakov and the memories that make up her lifetime.  In the present day, she is an 82 year old woman, getting ready to take a trip with her family to attend her granddaughter’s wedding, which should be a joyous occasion.  But Marina is slowly sinking into the abyss that is Alzheimer’s disease, making everyday tasks so difficult. And as her present slips away, the memories from her past become quite vivid, pulling her back to relive them. The author does a beautiful job of taking the reader into that time, bringing war-torn Russia to life.  Marina is a docent at the State Hermitage Museum during the siege of Leningrad in the second World War, and it is part of her job to help stow away the priceless treasures of the museum to keep them safe from destruction and theft.  Many workers and their families take refuge in the building’s basement, and to pass the time, Marina and a fellow worker walk through the empty rooms, creating a “memory palace,” envisioning the canvases that once occupied the now-empty frames.

This debut novel by Debra Dean is a work of art itself.  Beautiful and poignant, it reminds us that our memories truly are treasures. For more on Madonnas of Leningrad, listen to our podcast of Debra Dean’s call in to the Woods Book Club.

Who will like this book?:  Anyone with an interest in art history, World War II fiction, and/or family drama.

If you like this, try thisRemembering the Bonesby Frances Itani.  The Siege by Helen Dumore.

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian

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