The Siege by Helen Dunmore

I came to read The Siege in rather a roundabout way. I bought the sequel, The Betrayal, at Singapore’s Changi airport with my last Singaporean dollars due to its interesting cover and its Stalinist Russia setting. Settling in to read this book at home the next day, my first thought was ‘Uh-oh! Sequel!’ Thanks to the wonders of ebooks and the interest, I was able to download The Siege from Kobo and start reading in under 10 minutes. A store can’t beat that!*

The Siege covers the Leningrad siege during World War II – the winter of 1941/42 to be precise. We start as the war becomes closer to Leningrad through the eyes of the Levin family – Anna, her father Mikhail and younger brother Kolya. Anna’s mother died in childbirth and Anna has had to miss university and take up a position as a nursery school assistant while looking after Kolya. She is the practical one; her father is a writer and dreamer, eternally watching and waiting to be taken away as he has fallen out of favour with the government. As things worsen, Anna is forced to search for food, ending up in strange and dangerous circumstances. Mikhail is injured and is looked after by his former flame, Marina. Fortunately for Anna, there is one bright spot in her life: Andrei, a medical student. But will they survive the siege?

While I didn’t find the portrayal of the siege as harrowing as that in The Bronze Horseman (probably because I knew what was going to happen) it was still powerfully written and it’s a testament to Helen Dunmore that I carried on straightaway with The Betrayal. It’s written in the present tense, so it’s like the plot is unfolding before you, like a play. This does make it seem a little detached at times, but the tone of starvation and fear still comes across very powerfully.

Read it if: you’re interested in the Russian people’s perspective during WWII.

* Absolutely nothing wrong with bookstores (this is a hot topic in Australia at present) and I do support my local bookstore well financially as well as investing in ebooks.

12 thoughts on “The Siege by Helen Dunmore

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  1. I think I read this book too close The Bronze Horseman because I thought it was a bit pale in comparison, but I just read The Betrayal last week and thought it was really, really good, so I think I am going to go back and reread this one just to see how it is with some distance between them.

    1. I agree – The Siege is a lot ‘lighter’ than The Bronze Horseman (that had me crying in parts) but I took it as more of an ‘episode’ rather than a whole story like The Bronze Horseman. The Siege was a bit fuzzier to me, perhaps because it’s more through Anna’s eyes.
      I really enjoyed The Betrayal – review later this week.

  2. I seem to be the only person who was less than impressed by this book, I’m still quite interested to read The Betrayal though

    1. I think this book is a bit different – Orange Prize winners are hit and miss for me (although I still keep picking them up to read). The Betrayal is also written in the present tense, if that’s something that you didn’t like.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful read. I’m wondering if Borders’ financial problems are going to have any impact on Kobo users? Seems like you haven’t had any yet?

    1. We haven’t had any problems as yet – my local Borders is open (with a bit less stock on the shelves) and they’re still selling Kobo. If Kobo and Borders cease to exist, I’m going to be in big ebook trouble (the other places are dreadfully expensive)!

  4. I haven’t read anything about the Russian view on WWII (except for nonfiction in history class), so this one definitely appeals to me 🙂

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