I was only vaguely aware of the siege of Leningrad and the role it played in the Second World War and, considering how the this event affected millions of people, that’s a shame.
Helen Dunmore'sThe Siege follows Anna and her family as the rumour and then reality of war begins to affect them. Along with her family, Anna struggles to survive a harsh winter with no food, heat or running water. Leningrad is surrounded by the Germans and the only available route to bring in supplies is being constantly bombarded by enemy planes. People are dying where they drop in their search for food and fuel.
I found this book both difficult to read and compelling. The story moves you along and you’re involved in the lives of the characters even before you realize it. The suffering comes alive on the page and that’s when it was the most difficult to get through. The hope that crops up here and there made up the compelling parts. I think the author did a remarkable job conveying what it must’ve been like to live through and survive such a nightmare. When I did my own bit of research about the siege it was I discovered the story of an eleven year old girl who wrote in her diary whenever a member of her family died and, in less than a year, they all were. This girl’s story is mntioned in the book. I could not remotely know what it would be like to be in that child’s shoes, but I think that The Siege goes a long way in portraying it.
The writing is sparse, straight to the point, but wholly descriptive. I could picture the frost in people’s eyelashes and see their breath in the cold air and feel the hunger in their stomachs. Little pieces of humanity stand out glowingly so that the reader is full of hope along with the characters.
It would be difficult to say that I really loved this book because of the subject matter – it’s obviously not a happy story and I do like happy stories. Nevertheless, I’m so glad I read it. It’s an important part of history that I didn’t know much about and it’s good to know that books like this can impart the stories of the people who lived through crises and have not been forgotten. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.