The Betrayal is a sequel of sorts to The Siege. You probably don’t need to have read it to understand the history and relationships of the characters, but it does help. The Betrayal takes place over ten years after The Siege under the last days of Stalin in Leningrad.
Andrei is now a doctor and Anna now his wife. They have no children, but Anna’s brother Kolya is now a teenager living with them. The community lives in fear of being taken away by the secret police after false accusations from comrades. Anna and Andrei try to fly under the radar (except for Kolya’s piano playing disturbing the neighbours) but their quiet life is destroyed when a colleague asks for an opinion on a young child. This child is the only son of a man high up in the secret police. Unfortunately for Andrei, the child has cancer and it is he who tells the family and he who advises on treatment. When the cancer metastasises, Andrei and his colleagues are blamed and begin the descent to gaol and hell. Anna is left on the outside to pick up the pieces and hope for the unbelievable.
The Betrayal was very successful at creating the intense fear that the characters felt – fear for being seen with someone, doing the wrong thing or even just under suspicion. The punishment was brutal, whether you were innocent or not. The last chapter, while summarising everything nicely, would have been a good plot of another book.
A great book, I’m going to look out for more Helen Dunmore. She can take one idea and turn it into a very moving book.
Read it if: Soviet Russia fascinates you.
8.5 out of 10.