Helen Dunmore's gripping novel meets Anna and Andrei, protagonists of her earlier, critically acclaimed novel The Siege
(2001), as they endeavor to create a normal life in 1950s Leningrad. (Note: while reading The Siege
may be useful for getting background information, it's certainly not necessary; The Betrayal
stands very well on its own.) The siege is over, the newly planted trees have begun to bloom around the city, and Anna and Andrei are fiercely committed to living a calm, predictable life. The all-encompassing organs of the Soviet state, however, make living a quiet life challenging. The terrors of life under the siege - little food, daily threats from the invading Germans, the imminence of death - have given way to a more benign terror, the gripping power of the authoritarian Soviet state. Though life is not as horrible as it was during the Great Purge of...
Beyond the Book
is loosely based on a series of investigations that took place toward the end of Joseph Stalin's rule in 1953, formally known as "The Doctors' Plot." This bizarre scheme wrongfully accused nine prominent Moscow doctors - the majority of whom were Jewish - of coordinating the deaths of high-ranking Soviet Party members. Rather than respecting these doctors' medical authority and accepting terminal diagnoses, the Party members turned on them and suspected them of plotting their assassinations.
According to a report disclosed by the CIA under the US Department of State Freedom of Information Act, the doctors were singled out, "as part of a ring of spies working for a 'Jewish-bourgeois nationalist group,' which in turn was sponsored by the American and British...