WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for The Siege, the first book in this series. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read my review of The Siege.
The basics: The Betrayal picks up in Leningrad in 1952. Anna and Andrei are happily married and raising her younger brother Kolya as if he were their own. Andrei is a successful doctor, but his values are put to the test when the child of a senior secret police officer comes in for treatment and the prognosis isn't good.
My thoughts: I really enjoyed The Siege, and it was wonderful to reconnect with these characters so quickly. In many ways, though, The Betrayal doesn't read like a sequel. Yes, the characters are familiar, and the setting is still Leningrad, but life during the siege and life under Stalin are radically different. Also different in this novel is the narration. Anna's point of view drove the narrative of The Siege, but Andrei took center stage for much of The Betrayal. Dunmore plays with the themes of paranoia, trust and perception beautifully:
"We should panic," she says. "People are destroyed because they don't panic in time. They think it won't happen to them." (p. 38)Historical fiction can easily seem too grim or too romanticized. Helen Dunmore manages to convey the atrocities of the place and time while still believing in the power of the human spirit to persevere or perish:
They believed in the next world, and no wonder, when this one had given them nothing. But we believed in making this world a better place. (p. 322)
Anna's too young yet to know that the past is just as real as the present, even though you have to pretend that it isn't, and carry on towards the future. (p. 323)Perhaps my favorite aspect of this novel was Dumore's ability to take one story, and a one family, to tell the story of Leningrad itself:
Our city is like that, too, think Anna. 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)Despite being quite different from The Siege, I thoroughly enjoyed The Betrayal. The tale was more familiar to me, and thus less shocking, but I loved following these characters through a different period in their lives. The combination of these two novels provides a nice context for modern Russian history.
The verdict: The Betrayal is a worthy follow-up to The Siege and will appeal to fans of historical fiction and literary fiction.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Length: 326 pages
Publication date: No word on a U.S. release yet (sadly), but it's out now in Canada and the UK
Source: I bought it from the Book Depository
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