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.