BOOK REVIEW: THE MADONNAS OF LENINGRAD
Marina has in effect led two lives and these lives are sharply divided - first by her determination (shared by her husband) to leave the upheaval of the second World War behind her and more recently by her failing memory.
As a young woman living in Leningrad at the time of the Russian blockade, Marina clung to a precarious existence on the edge of starvation by wrapping her mind and soul in the beauty of the paintings at the famed Hermitage Museum. As a tour guide before the war, Marina had memorized a wealth of facts and history about many works in the collection. She clung to sanity by imagining their presence on the blank walls - all the treasured items had been packed away for safety.
A half century later, in America's Pacific Northwest, Marina is slipping into the twilight of Alzheimer's disease, and only very occasionally aware of her husband, her family, and her surroundings.
Dean's marvelous debut novel moves between these two worlds as well as providing insight by shifting the narrative's point of view to that of Marina's family.
This book is the story of loss - in fact the story of many losses. Most poignant of all is the realization that her children will never truly know their mother. Her determination to cling to beauty in the face of ruinous destruction will remain forever closed to them.
REVIEWED BY WOODSTOCK
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