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The Madonnas of Leningrad

by Debra Dean

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2006, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2007, 256 pages

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by H. A.

A story of hope and beauty
I have never written a book review before. However, I disagree so strongly with the last review, I felt compelled to write. Furthermore, I must point out that the last reviewer did not read the story closely because Marina saved a woman from dying with her bar of chocolate. I think the whole message of the book is that in the midst of the worst dispair there is always humanity. That is what keeps us alive. You can be starving and still have compassion for a stranger. You can have every bit of beauty stripped from the walls around you and still use your imagination to make a group of boys believe they are seeing great works of art. I wept at the images. I also think that it gives us hope that those victims of dimentia are not locked in some hellish prison but are perhaps reliving some wonderful parts of their lives. Because even Marina who had been through so much in her lifetime, remember the beauty of life most of all. This is the message we must take from the book.
bob

Remarkable little book
"The Madonnas of Leningrad" is remarkable. In this her first book, Debra Dean gives her readers a historical novel plus a portrait of a family member going through the horrible disease of Alzheimer's. Mrs Dean presents us with not only the patient's thoughts, but combines this with a great story based on historical fact: the siege of Leningrad in World War II. This story is not only a great one, but it gives us a time away from the experience of Alzheimer's. For those of us who have been, or are, a caregiver for a family member with the disease it is much needed because her descriptions are heart-wrenching. The historical fiction portion could have stood by itself, but the combination places these brief 228 pages in the 'highly recommended' category.
Rowan Ayers

Something missing
In spite pf the raves on the book covers and among some of the reviewers, I found this a depressing and sometimes bewildering book, with the various cuts from the war years to the present, with catalogue type references to former artworks dropped in to jog the memory of what the old Hermitage was likw, disorientating to say the least. The main character Marina is not very interesting at any time , and the sixty year gap between her life in Leningrad during the war, and her final life in Seattle creates a difficult mind shift that adds nothing to the overall appeal of the novel. There are moments, as in Leningrad, when she tries to rescue some hidden chocolate from her apartment, (a luxury few could enjoy) but on seeing an old man shivering and alone on the street, she gives it to him, and returns to the "shelter" empty handed. But overall there was , for me at any rate, a depressing feeling of never getting to know her or the other family characters at all well, nor of appreciating the sixty year links between the past and the present as intended presumably by the author's constant cutting from then till now.
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