Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Madonnas of Leningrad

by Debra Dean (read June 2006)
A beautifully told story of a Soviet immigrant, Marina, who is slipping fast into the clutches of Alzheimer's. She drifts back and forth between her present life in Washington state and the past when she was a tour guide in the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad at the beginning of WWII. As the Germans approach the city, Marina and other museum workers remove pieces of art to be shipped from the city. They were told to leave the frames hanging on the walls. Marina creates a 'memory place' in her mind based on the rooms and the artwork. These memories provide a retreat from the devastions of war - the hunger, cold and terror. It's interesting to me that the memories of the museum and of the war provide Marina with a 'memory place' to escape from her present day confusion.

In an early scene in the book Marina is standing at the kitchen sink holding a pan of water. "But she has no idea why. Is she rinsing the pan: Or has she just finished filling it up? It is a puzzle. Sometimes it requires all her wits to piece together the world with the fragments she is given: an open can of Folgers, a carton of eggs on the counter, the faint scent of toast. Breakfast. Has she eaten? She cannot recall." She questions if she is hungry or not, but can't tell. She decides she's hungry. When her husband walks in the room carrying the dirty breakfast dishes, he finds Marina poaching eggs.

Dean makes a comparison to the ravages of war and the ravages of Alzheimer's without spelling out what she is doing. The effect is subtle but powerful. An incredible book that I will be thinking about for years to come.


Lotus Reads said...

Wow, your review has got me intrigued about the book, I will have to check it out. Just curious, but does the author describe any of the art through Marina in her role as a tour guide of the Hermitage museum?

Yes, I definitely like the sound of this book, thanks so much for reviewing it!

Myke said...

If you can remember it that long. Just Kidding. Wow, you write a great review. I almost hate to read your reviews because I know I haven't got the time to read them all and you make them all sound so good. I can hardly stand it. You sure seem to have a knack for finding great stuff to read.

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Booklogged, I'm here for the first time and how could I have missed such a creative book blog.
May I link you to mine? You write so well yourself, I'd love to come over and read you lots.Have a great weekend.

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Booklogged, when you wrote to me today on the email (and I'm really bad with emails) I'm so sorry I mistook you for another reader in Israel who cooks and with a similiar name. I think I would have recalled you instantly only if I had seen your nickname, which was how I first remembered you. Otherwise, it's pretty difficult. Please forgive me. All the rest of the things I said still apply. Of course, you're most welcome to leave comments. I'd love you to and you can always be assured of a very warm welcome and friendship from me. Yes, all that still applies 100%. so sorry, darling. I hope you'll still write.

booklogged said...

Susan, don't give it a second thought. It's a thrill to be making friends with someone from Kuala Lumpur. I live in small, but growing town in Utah. Welcome to my blog.

Framed said...

This looks like another book to add to the list. I'm still working on Cold Mountain. It's been a week!!!

booklogged said...

Lotus, yes some of the art is described. I would like to find a book that describes what happens to the Hermitage after the war--does the art make it back, is it still used as a museum, etc? I know so very little about Russia and its history.

Jude said...

Interesting account. Alzheimer's must be a difficult disease to contend with.

David Preacher said...

For me a visit to the City Museum of History in St Petersburg is a must, because of the following:

The City Museum of History in St. Petersburg holds a diary by a child named Tatyana Nikolayevna Savicheva who, in 1941 at age 11, was helping dig trenches and put out firebombs.

Her diary lists the deaths of members of her family during the siege. The museum display is a few small scraps of paper torn from a notebook. Tanya burned her original real diary, in which she recorded the important things in her life, when it was all that was left to heat the stove in the freezing winter. Each page was originally intended for the practice of a letter of the Cyrillic alphabet. Tanya had written entries starting with the letter from the alphabet on that page: