Summary and book reviews of The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

The Betrayal

A Novel

by Helen Dunmore

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore X
The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
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About this Book

Book Summary

A riveting and emotionally absorbing portrait of post-war Soviet Russia, a world of violence and terror, where the severest acts of betrayal can come from the most trusted allies.

Internationally-acclaimed author Helen Dunmore follows her bestselling novel, The Siege, with a riveting and emotionally absorbing portrait of post-war Soviet Russia, a world of violence and terror, where the severest acts of betrayal can come from the most trusted allies.

In 1952 Leningrad, Andrei, a young doctor, and Anna, a nursery school teacher, are forging a life together in the postwar, post-siege wreckage. But they know their happiness is precarious, like that of millions of Russians who must avoid the claws of Stalin's merciless Ministry of State Security. When Andrei is forced to treat the seriously ill child of a senior secret police officer, his every move is scrutinized, and it becomes painfully clear that his own fate, and that of his family, is bound to the child's. Trapped in an impossible game of life and death, and pitted against a power-mad father's raging grief, Andrei and Anna must avoid the whispers and watchful eyes of those who will say or do anything to save themselves.

With The Betrayal, Dunmore returns with a powerful and stirring novel of ordinary people in the grip of a terrible and sinister regime, and an evocative tale of a love that will not be silenced.

1

It's a fresh June morning, without a trace of humidity, but Russov is sweating. Sunlight from the hospital corridor's high window glints on his forehead. Andrei's attention sharpens. The man is pale, too, and his eyes are pouched with shadow.

It could be a hangover, but Russov rarely drinks more than a single glass of beer. He's not overweight. A touch of flu then, even though it's June? Or maybe he needs a check-up. He's in his mid-forties; the zone of heart disease.

Russov comes close, closer than two people should stand. His breath is in Andrei's face, and suddenly Andrei stops diagnosing, stops being at a comfortable doctorly distance from the symptoms of a colleague. His skin prickles. His body knows more than his mind does. Russov smells of fear, and his conciliating smile cannot hide it. He wants something, but he is afraid.

'Andrei Mikhailovich . . .'

'What is it?'

'Oh, it's nothing important. Only if you've got a moment . . .'

His face is ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Set in post–World War II Russia, The Betrayal chronicles life in Leningrad ten years after the infamous siege. Begin your discussion of this novel by considering how the city itself affects and shapes the characters' lives on both a physical and a spiritual level. Consider Anna's quote: "Our city is like that... We love it, but it doesn't love us. We're like children who cling to the skirts of a beautiful, preoccupied mother" (p. 261).


  2. Dunmore writes with compassion, celebrating the simple things in the life of a society that has known true horrors. What does Andrei mean when he wants "to live out an ordinary, valuable life" (p. 14)? In the context of the time and place of the novel, what does this mean? Why is it so important...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Dunmore's brilliance lies in her ability to pare down the sweeping drama of Soviet Russia into small, clear descriptions of how average families are affected by societal forces. The reader is brought inside Anna and Andrei's relationship and made to feel the stresses, joys, fears that they feel... Dunmore's ability to integrate the reader so seamlessly into her narrative is masterful. This is a powerful novel, one that has stuck in my mind since I finished reading it. The Betrayal is perfect for book clubs and is sure to be a favorite with people who enjoy historical or literary fiction.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review (753 words).

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Media Reviews

Time Out (UK)
Beautifully crafted, gripping, moving, enlightening. Sure to be one of the best historical novels of the year.

Independent on Sunday (UK)
Magnificent, brave, tender.

Sunday Times (UK)
Scrupulous, pitch-perfect. With heart-pounding force, Dunmore builds up a double narrative of suspense.

The Daily Mail (UK)
Dunmore chillingly evokes the atmosphere of Soviet suspicion, where whispered rumors and petty grievances metastasize into lies and denunciation. A gripping read.

The Guardian (UK)
Meticulous, clever, eloquent. An absorbing and thoughtful tale of good people in hard times.

The Times (UK)
Storytelling on a grand scale.

Daily Telegraph (UK)
Enthralling. Emotionally gripping... ordinary people struggling against a city's beautiful indifference, and clinging on for dear life.

Spectator (UK)
Dunmore's genius lies in her ability to convey the strange Soviet atmosphere of these very Soviet stories using the most subtle of clues.

Publishers Weekly
With precise period detail and astute psychological insight, Dunmore brings the last months of Stalin's reign to life and reminds us why some eras shouldn't be forgotten.

Library Journal
Enormously readable, [The Betrayal] personalizes in intimate detail a harsh and important period in modern Russian history.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Historical fiction of the highest order.

Sunday Herald
A remarkably feeling, nuanced novel... With her seemingly small canvas, Dunmore has created a universe.

Grazia
A masterpiece. An extraordinarily powerful evocation of a time of unimaginable fear. We defy you to read it without a pounding heart and a lump in your throat.

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Beyond the Book

The Doctors' Plot

The Betrayal 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 ...

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