In the High Peaks

Monday, January 25, 2016

Madonnas in Leningrad and I'm Feeling a Dose of Comfort Reads Coming On

Last week I spent three long days in Albany doing research at the New York State Library and Archives. Yes, the days were long, but it was interesting work. When I got out of there each evening, in the bitter cold of last week, I immediately zipped over to my hotel, and instead of exercising as I should have, I enveloped myself in Debra Dean's debut novel Madonnas of Leningrad, which was published in 2006. I've meant to read it ever since the year it was published, and finally when it was available for the Nook for $1.99 about a year or two ago, I snatched it up.

It's the story of a young woman in Leningrad during the Siege of WWII, a woman passionate about the art within the walls of The Hermitage, the exquisite Russian museum within a stone's throw of The Winter Palace. The war comes and overwhelming hardships along with it. The women work tirelessly day and night, without adequate food, to remove all the precious art works from The Hermitage to safety in the countryside. As the German blockade of the city results in starvation, hopelessness, and death, she continues her duties as air warden on the rooftop of The Hermitage. She falls in love with a young man on his way to the front. Then, with winter, life becomes virtually impossible. The only thing that keeps her sane is her ability to walk the empty rooms of The Hermitage and envelop herself in her memories of the art works that once hung there. Those memories are her sustenance.

Interwoven with this story of the early 1940s is the story of the same woman, much older, whose memory is failing exponentially day by day. She has her husband to keep her grounded, but more and more she is falling irretrievably to reveries of her past. She becomes lost but her memories have her body and soul bound in protection that is as impermeable as cotton batting.

This is a short novel at 197 pages. I found it engaging, though I must confess that the last quarter of the novel was not focused as the rest of the book was. The end of the novel lacked resolution, which I know is not necessarily a flaw. I enjoyed the read nevertheless.

My life is exciting, but it's been very challenging these days because of the never-ending loads of work. In just a couple of weeks my brother and I must move our mother into a unit for Alzheimer's patients. Note: It's a highly recommended unit where she will be well taken care of. But it will be a big loss for her and for us because she fiercely loved her home in her assisted living community where she has lived for 12 years and where she has many friends. One mustn't get maudlin, but the end of life does pose some difficult losses for people and their families. I'm feeling that "one loss at a time" pattern, reminding me that one must live for today, as much as we possibly can.

Bring on the comfort reads! So you probably know I'll probably move on to K is for Killer by Sue Grafton, and let Kinsey Milhone strike again. What else shall I treat myself too? I hope I don't insult anyone by saying that Maisie Dobbs is a comfort read for me. And then I may treat myself to one of the wintry books on Cath's Read Warbler list. (See previous entries for details.) And please note, you can connect to Read Warbler via my "Blogs of Substance" List.


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your mother, Judith... that is such a stressful situation for everyone. Comfort reads are definitely called for! I've been eyeing The Madonnas of Leningrad for such a long time. Glad you were able to find a deal.

    I'm still reading City on Fire... very good, but way too long. Your header photo is beautiful. Is that Gore Mountain?

  2. JoAnn,
    Thank you so much for sympathizing.
    Although City on Fire is long, at least I'm glad you're enjoying it. I just read some reviews of it. Do you think it lived up to the hype?
    And yes, you're absolutely right. That's Gore Mountain, looking down from the top of Sunway, just beneath The Saddle Lodge at 3000 ft. The summit is 3660 ft. I haven't been able to get there all winter, but I understand I haven't been missing much. We have had so little snow.