Short listed for 2001 Orange Prize and Whitbread Novel of the Year Award
In September 1941 German troops surrounded the city of Leningrad, cutting off all supply routes. This left the 3 millions residents battling for survival – most so hungry that they resorted to making soup from strips of leather.
The Siege is historical fiction at its best. The writing was so vivid that I almost felt as though I’d been there.
Late in the morning a lilac-coloured dawn will come, with burning frost that glitters on branches, on spills of frozen water, on snow, cupolas and boarded up statues. Nothing has ever been more beautiful than these broad avenues, the snow-coloured Neva, the parks and embankments. Only the people mar its perfection as they crawl out of their homes into the radiance of snow. Perhaps today is the day when they’ll fail to reach the bread queue. So they move on, flies caught between sheets of glass.
The book focused on one family. This personal insight into the crisis made the events come alive. I felt a deep connection to each member of the family and I willed them all to survive.
The Siege also contained a few chapters from the view-point of Pavlov, the nutritionist controlling the amount of food that each person received with their ration card each day. This was a fantastic addition to the plot as it allowed the real facts and figures of the situation to be revealed to the reader. It also allowed us to learn about the numerous ways in which the citizens were advised get nutrition from objects they possessed in their homes – some much more unusual than others.
As you can imagine this could never be described as a happy book, but I can only admire the strength of human spirit – that desire to survive despite the odds being stacked against them.
The Siege is the prequel to the 2010 Booker long listed The Betrayal. If you haven’t read The Siege then I highly recommend that you avoid reading any reviews for The Betrayal – I discovered that my 2010 Booker research had led me to reading a few spoilers for The Siege.
The Siege is my first experience of Helen Dunmore’s writing, but I’m a convert! I hope to read The Betrayal next week, but will also be on the look out for all her other books.
Have you read any Helen Dunmore books?
Which one is your favourite?