In the High Peaks

Friday, February 3, 2017

In the Midst Of Reading: Helen Dunmore's The Betrayal

A crazy week with loads of crazy things happening:
At least I've had a glorious book by Helen Dunmore to keep me captivated. The Betrayal, set in Leningrad about eight years after the end of World War II, is a sequel (of sorts) to The Siege, her novel set during the World War II German-led strangle-hold and bombardment of Leningrad, which lasted 1000 days, or thereabouts (better check my facts), and which caused massive starvation but not the defeat of the city.

Anna, her doctor-husband Andrei, and Anna's parents' youngest child Kolya, all of whom just barely survived the Siege on Leningrad, are trying desperately to lead a normal life, despite oppressive Fascist conditions and continuing post-war shortages. Stalin is still living, so the novel is set in around 1952 or so. (Stalin died in 1953.)

Andrei is well-satisfied in his career as a specialist in juvenile rheumatic disorders at a major Leningrad teaching hospital. Anna works as a nursery-school teacher, who also works tirelessly on pre-school research studies for the director of her school.

Andrei and Anna have a tender, warm relationship and manage to carefully handle Anna's 16-year-old brother with all the patience and love they can muster.

The inciting incident: Andrei is called upon to treat the child of a top-level Communist, who has  an osteosarcoma in his tibia. Treating cancer is not Andrei's specialty, but, no matter, he is called upon to treat him. The child's father's name strikes terror in every Leningrader's heart. "Volkov is the boy's father," a name that no one dares to utter in a voice above a whisper. Colleagues warn Andrei to abandon Leningrad immediately before he becomes more deeply implicated, but he does not, due to his strong sense of responsibility toward all of his patients.

This is undeniably an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but what is so lovely is that alongside all the strife, there is the close family life, and especially the family's love of their dacha, where they grow vegetables, and which is just outside Leningrad's outskirts.

This novel was nominated for several prizes and won one. (Help! But the book is upstairs--Can't list them right now.)

If you are into flawlessly written prose, Dunmore will be right up your alley. Perhaps you've read her WWII English ghost story, The Greatcoat (perhaps my favorite--so subtly done), or her post-World War I novel The Lie. I know I absolutely must read all of her books.

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