Excerpt from The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Madonnas of Leningrad

by Debra Dean

The Madonnas of Leningrad
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2007, 256 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"Katie, Andrei's girl. To Cooper."

Katie is her granddaughter. But who is Cooper? You'd think she'd remember that name.

"We met him at Christmas," Dmitri says. "And again at Andrei and Naureen's a few weeks ago. He's very tall." He is waiting for some sign of recognition, but there is nothing. "You wore that blue dress with the flowers, and they had salmon for supper," he prompts.

Still nothing. She sees a ghost of despair in his eyes. Sometimes that look is her only hint that something is missing. She begins with the dress. Blue. A blue flowered dress. Bidden, it appears in her mind's eye. She bought it at Penney's.

"It has a pleated collar," she announces triumphantly.

"What's that?" His brow furrows.

"The dress. And branches of lilac flowers." She can call up the exact shade of the fabric. It is the same vivid robin's-egg as the dress worn by the Lady in Blue.

Thomas Gainsborough. Portrait of the Duchess of Beaufort. She packed that very painting during the evacuation. She remembers helping to remove it from its gilt frame and then from the stretcher that held it taut.

Whatever is eating her brain consumes only the fresher memories, the unripe moments. Her distant past is preserved, better than preserved. Moments that occurred in Leningrad sixty-some years ago reappear, vivid, plump, and perfumed. In the Hermitage, they are packing up the picture gallery. It is past midnight but still light enough to see without electricity. It is the end of June 1941, and this far north, the sun barely skims beneath the horizon. Belye nochi, they are called, the white nights. She is numb with exhaustion and her eyes itch from the sawdust and cotton wadding. Her clothes are stale, and it has been days since she has slept. There is too much to be done. Every eighteen or twenty hours, she slips away to one of the army cots in the next room and falls briefly into a dreamless state. One can't really call it sleep. It is more like disappearing for a few moments at a time. Like a switch being turned off. After an hour or so, the switch mysteriously flips again, and like an automaton she rises from her cot and returns to work.

All the doors and windows are thrown open to the remaining light, but it is still very humid. The airplanes buzz and drone, but she has stopped flinching when she hears one directly overhead. In the space of a few days and nights, the planes have become part of this strange dream, both tangible and unreal.

Sunday morning, Germany attacked without warning. No one, not even Stalin it seems, saw this coming. No one except Director Orbeli, the head of the museum. How else to explain the detailed evacuation plan that appeared almost as soon as news of the attack came over the radio? On this list, every painting, every statue, nearly every object that the museum possesses, was numbered and sorted according to size. Even more astonishing, wooden crates and boxes were brought up from the basement with corresponding numbers already stenciled on their lids. Kilometers of packing paper, mountains of cotton wool and sawdust, rollers for the paintings, all these appeared as if preordained.

She and another of the museum's tour guides, Tamara, have just finished removing the Gainsborough from its frame. It is not one of her favorites. The subject is a pampered woman with powdered hair rolled and piled ridiculously high, and topped with a silly feathered hat. Still, as Marina is about to place the canvas between oiled sheets of paper, she is struck by how naked the figure looks out of its frame. The lady's right hand holds her blue wrap up protectively over her breast. She stares out past the viewer, her dark eyes transfixed. What Marina has always taken to be a vacant-eyed gaze looks suddenly sad and calm, as though this woman from a long-ago ruling class can envision how her fortunes are about to change again. Marina says to Tamara, "She looks a little as though she could see into the future."

The foregoing is excerpted from The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

"Quirky and appealing characters, an engaging story, and honest dialogue make this a great book!"
- BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    In the Country of Men
    by Hisham Matar
    Labeled by some as the "Libyan Kite Runner", In The Country of Men does share some ...
  • Book Jacket: Holding Up the Universe
    Holding Up the Universe
    by Jennifer Niven
    Jennifer Niven's spectacular Holding Up the Universe has everything that I love about Young ...
  • Book Jacket: Coffin Road
    Coffin Road
    by Peter May
    From its richly atmospheric opening to its dramatic conclusion, Peter May's Coffin Road is a ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Victoria
    by Daisy Goodwin

    Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit." - Amanda Foreman

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win All the Gallant Men

All The Gallant Men

The first memoir by a USS Arizona survivor, 75 years after Pearl Harbor.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Y Eyes P

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.