Saturday, September 4, 2010

Booker Dozen 2010: The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

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

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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  1. Im planning on buying this one soon as I loved The Siege. Its good that the author has changed it around slightly though as she could have just stuck to the same formula.

  2. I hadn't realized this was second in a series. I will have to check out The Siege.

  3. @Jessica - I hope you do get to it soon. I'll be curious to see how you like it!

    @Stephanie - I really recommend both. Enjoy!

  4. I loved The Siege, but then the siege of Leningrad is a favourite subject of mine so I was bound to. I thought it was a five star read. Happily, I have The Betrayal coming from my library any day and am really looking forward to it. Thanks for reviewing this and for visiting Fresh Ink Books.

  5. It is interesting that you found the events less shocking as you were already aware of them. I think I had a similar reaction. I have heard stories similar to The Betrayal many times before and although I enjoyed this one its simplicity meant I didn't enjoy it as much as other similar books on the subject (eg Child 44)


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