Friday, August 20, 2010

book review: The Siege by Helen Dunmore

The backstory: The Siege was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002, and it's sequel, The Betrayal, is on this year's Booker Prize longlist.

The basics: This novel is set in Leningrad in 1941, when it is under German siege and winter is coming. Everyone is fighting for survival. Anna, the 22-year-old heroine, is taking care of her younger brother; their mother died in childbirth. Their father is a writer, but his stories are no longer published because of his political views.

My thoughts: I debated reading The Siege, but I am so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am not a scholar of Russian history, and seeing the War from the standpoint of Leningrad was absolutely fascinating to me. I learned so much by reading this book, but I think those familiar with the setting and history would still enjoy this novel. Several times I was so wrapped up in the story I forgot it was real; it read like a dystopian novel:
"Words are regaining their meanings, after years of masquerade. Hunger means hunger, terror means terror, enemy means enemy...Everything gets closer day by day, as siege and winter eat into their lives." (page 181, hardcover)
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this novel was Dumore's ability to tell both the story of Leningrad and its people as a whole as well as the story of Anna and her family without shortchanging either. It is both a novel of war and life. The reader needs the hope of Anna to survive the vivid descriptions of life during the siege. I confess, simply knowing there was a sequel to this book allowed me to have hope, and I'm eagerly awaiting The Betrayal soon.

The verdict: The Siege is a stark, poetic, haunting novel of war and survival. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction, international fiction, historical fiction, military fiction and dystopian fiction.

Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: 293 pages
Publication date: January 2, 2002
Source: my local public library

Have you read other Helen Dunmore novels? 

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  1. I do want to read this book as this is the second review (positive) that I've read recently - glad u loved it!

  2. I hadn't heard of this book, but your review makes me believe that I would really enjoy this book, and it's sequel. I am going to have to try to check it out soon. Thanks for insightful review, you made the book sound great!

  3. It is great to see that you enjoyed this as much as I did. I loved it and hope to read many more of her books in the near future. I hope that you enjoy The Betrayal just as much. :-)

  4. Ooh, I'm glad you liked this one! I want to read it at some point.

  5. After you and Jackie both talking about this book / series I am going to have to try to find a copy!

  6. I loved this novel and I'm hoping I like The Betrayal jus as much.

    Sounds like you have great birthday plans - Happy Birthday in advance!

  7. @Bibliophile - I hope you do make time for this one and enjoy it!

    @Zibille - Thanks! I likely never would have discovered these if not for the Booker longlist.

    @farmlanebooks - It is nice when we agree:-) I'm looking forward to finishing The Betrayal

    @SKrishna - I hope you find time for it!

    @Amy - Yes, literary peer pressure: just read it!

    @mynovelreviews - Thanks! I hope we both enjoy The Betrayal too!

  8. Oh, this sounds really good! The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean also touches upon that awful winter.

    I hope it's okay to link to your review on the WWII book reviews page on War Through the Generations.

  9. I loved this one, as you know. I have acquired copies of Mourning Ruby and Talking to the Dead by Dunmore and hope to get into them as soon as I'm finished The Betrayal.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!