Sunday, May 12, 2013
In June of 1941, with the Germans closing in on Leningrad, intent on destroying the city in its entirety, those who worked at The Hermitage, and those citizens who loved it, worked tirelessly to pack over a million art treasures. They were loaded onto two trains which safely evacuated the art they contained to the Urals, until the war and siege ended in 1945. Spending days packing, sometimes for 23 hours at a time without a rest, and nights on fire watch on The Hermitage building complex's roof, Marina and the other volunteers lived with little sleep and less food, as they preserved the collected art history of Europe and Asia.
Told from Marina's perspective, as both an elderly, Alzheimer-threatened woman who emigrated to the United States after the war, and as a young worker at the Hermitage, the story weaves tales of war, suffering, hunger and love for art into a compelling narrative. The Madonnas of Leningrad is also told from the perspective of her daughter, who gives us a side to war survivors that many of us have seen, that of people who have seen such horrors, that they choose not to speak of it. Marina and her husband, Dmitri, have lived a long, full life after the war, and only reflect on their past experiences when age and dementia shuffle their memories.
I highly recommend both reading this book and looking at the website for The Hermitage, www.hermitagemuseum.org. The facts of the story and the human side represented in this novel bring a clarity to a part of WWII that many of us rarely hear about, The Siege of Leningrad.