Eugene reader, August 20, 2012 (view all comments by Eugene reader)
Marina is a young woman in Leningrad, Russia during the war in 1941. She works as a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum. But as the German army's seige begins museum staff members move the art pieces to the basement and other safe places, while many of them live (or barely live) in this hidden lower level of the Hermitage. Marina is devoted to the artworks and sharing her knowledge with others. Now, however, Marina is an elderly woman living in America and the illness of Alzheimer's has a grip on her. I felt as if I were a part of her life and family as the reader travels with her between her past and her muddled interpretation of the present. Her years in the museum remain a strong part of her memory as we experience her latter years. Debra Dean has a true gift.
SMR, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by SMR)
Marina has Alzheimer's and is becoming more and more distant from her family as she remembers her life in Leningrad during World War II. Part historical novel, part love story, part memoir, part Alzheimer's story. The horrors of war and the discovery of the importance of details and little joys. Beautifully and hopefully written.
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Dementia has robbed Marina’s understanding of the present, but it has not eroded her memories of 1941 war-torn Leningrad. Then she worked as a docent at the Hermitage Museum, helping other staff members save the priceless collection from the approach of the German Army. As she removed paintings from their frames for evacuation to safety, the images remained in her mind. She could give gallery tours with just the empty frames on the walls. Now elderly she lives in America, and cannot relate to the upcoming wedding of her granddaughter. As Marina chooses a dress, she sees the blue in her dress as that of the robin’s-egg blue dress in Thomas Gainsborough’s Portrait of the Duchess of Beaufort, which she removed from its gilt frame. The author stays true to the historical facts of World War II in Russia, and gives the reader haunting glimpses into life during the Siege of Leningrad.
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Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories— the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild— yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.
Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind— a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .
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