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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2011, 336 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker
Buy This Book

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...

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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

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...continued

Full Review (753 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

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.

Reader Reviews

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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

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 ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Helen Dunmore

If you liked The Betrayal, try these:

  • The Undertaking jacket

    The Undertaking

    by Audrey Magee

    Published 2015

    About this book

    A much-anticipated debut from a remarkable new talent in Irish fiction—a terrifyingly intimate story of a war marriage caught up in the calamity of World War II

  • The Secret Speech jacket

    The Secret Speech

    by Tom Rob Smith

    Published 2010

    About this book

    More books by this author

    Former state security officer Leo Demidov is struggling to change as the Soviet Union changes around him. The two young girls he adopted have yet to forgive him for his part in the death of their parents, and they are not alone; now that the truth is out, Leo and his family are in grave danger from someone consumed by the dark legacy of Leo's past...

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
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 $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Butterfly Yellow
    Butterfly Yellow
    by Thanhha Lai, Daniel Suarez
    Voted 2019 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    As readers, many of us hope ...
  • Book Jacket: Olive, Again
    Olive, Again
    by Elizabeth Strout
    Voted 2019 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    It's been a big year for literary ...
  • Book Jacket: Solitary
    Solitary
    by Albert Woodfox
    Voted 2019 Best Debut Author Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    According to statistics from ...
  • Book Jacket: Becoming
    Becoming
    by Michelle Obama
    Voted 2019 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    BookBrowse hosted a Book Club ...

Book Club
Book Jacket
Evening in Paradise
by Lucia Berlin

"Berlin's new book is a marvel, filled with deeply touching stories about lives on the fringes."—NPR

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Seine
    by Elaine Sciolino

    "A soulful, transformative voyage along the body of water that defines the City of Light."
    —Lauren Collins
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Butterfly Yellow

BUTTERFLY YELLOW

Winner of the BookBrowse Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and the overall highest rated book of the year!

Enter

Wordplay

The Big Holiday Wordplay

Enter Now

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 the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.