Excerpt from The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Betrayal

A Novel

By Helen Dunmore

The Betrayal
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2011,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2011,
    336 pages.

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That's how it will be.

What does Russov take me for? Does he think I'm a complete idiot? Russov looks down at the gravel. His shoulders sag. He thinks he's lost, thinks Andrei. He thinks I'm going to tell him to sod off. And of course that's what I've got to do. Let Russov carry his own can. He's always trying to make himself conspicuous, and now fate has found a way. He'll 'raise his profile' with Volkov all right...

Russov got the case. That's all the difference there is between us. He could say yes. That's what he always says. Andrei has never been one of those doctors who keep their expertise only for their own patients. He doesn't spare his energy either. Sometimes it seems that the more he uses up his energy, the more he has, as if he's got access to some secret principle of acceleration that overrides the normal rules of fatigue. Everybody knows they can count on Andrei. Russov will be counting on that.

'You want me to take on the case,' says Andrei.

'I didn't say that.'

'Listen, Boris Ivanovich - '

'I'm only asking you to take a look at the boy.'

'Not today. It's impossible. I've got two clinics, and then a meeting until nine.'

'But you will?'

'I can't promise. I've got to go, my patient is waiting, and the radiographer. I'll speak to you tomorrow.'

Russov puts a hand on Andrei's sleeve. Shadows flicker on the dusty brownish-grey cloth. 'I appreciate your cooperation,' he says. He wants to sound as a man should sound after a normal professional discussion with a colleague, but in spite of himself his voice pleads.

'These trees have done well,' says Andrei.

Russov looks up impatiently. Trees! For heaven's sake, aren't there more important things to talk about? His grip tightens on Andrei's arm, then he recalls himself, and says with forced civility, 'Splendid things, trees.'

Anna worked from first light to darkness on the big October treeplanting day, the year the war ended, Andrei remembers. He didn't take part, because he was on duty all day. She came home exhausted - she had certainly 'fulfilled her norm of unpaid labour'. He was annoyed with her for doing so much - all that slog on top of a week's work. Surely she could have come home earlier, look at her, she was going to make herself ill. But Anna said, 'It's trees, Andryusha. Something for the children. Just think, one day Kolya will be able to take his children out to the new parks and walk under the shade of the trees we've planted today.'

Andrei walks down the corridor towards the Radiology Department. He can feel the tension in the back of his neck. He pauses for a moment, drops his shoulders, rotates them, lets them fall. Sick children are very quick to spot signs of adult anxiety.

'Hello, Tanichka, how's Mama behaving herself today?'

Tanya and her mother both laugh. It's an old joke between them. Tanya's mother used to scuttle in and out of the hospital, head down, terrified of breaking imaginary rules, terrified that Tanya would show her up. On one occasion all her fears came true when Tanya couldn't get to the toilet in time and wet herself, right there on the floor. But they've all got to know one another now. Just as well, since Tanya has had to be hospitalized several times with acute attacks. There is a new treatment based on extracts from animal adrenal glands, but he thinks it is still too risky for Tanya, given her weight and generally poor condition.

'You remember how I told you, Tanya, that your joint mobility depends on you too now, not just on the doctors and nurses? How have those exercises been going?'

Andrei has prescribed a course of isometric and isotonic exercise for Tanya, plus massages.

'Very well, doctor, she's been doing her exercises every morning and every evening, just like you said,' Tanya's mother answers.

The Betrayal © 2010 by Helen Dunmore; reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

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