The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean (14 October — 18 October)

Sigh. I just don’t even know what to say about this book. Remember People of the Book? That was a good book, but I would have liked it better if I didn’t have to read about Hanna Heath in the present. Madonnas suffers from the same problem, only I don’t even care about the parts in the past. Sigh.

Summary: The story follows our protagonist, Marina, in the present day and in her past when she was in Leningrad during World War II. Back then, she was a docent at a museum and was kept on to pack up all of the artwork and ship out what could be shipped out to save it from the German bombs. She also lived with her family and many others in the cellars of the museum, where they could save themselves from said bombs. Sometime during that, another museum worker recruits Marina to remember every single piece of art in the museum, even some that were taken away before Marina started there. So she does. Now, in the present day, Marina has Alzheimer’s, and instead of being present with her husband and at her granddaughter’s wedding, she flashes back to all these scenes of the past.

It’s a pretty flimsy narrative device, especially since more time is spent in the past than in the present, and the past scenes don’t tie in very well with the present scenes anyway. And, unlike People of the Book, the past scenes aren’t very compelling. I understand why she would want to try to remember all of the works in the museum, but it never really pays off (unless “ironically” getting Alzheimer’s counts as paying off). Also, there are a couple of magical/mystical/fantastical elements involving [spoiler?] sex with a god and some soldiers “seeing” the paintings that aren’t there that just took me completely out of the story and irked me a bit.

Like I told one of my book club members, if it weren’t a book club read I’d tell all of them not to finish it. It just wasn’t worth it, to me.

Rating: 3/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)

See also:
Peeking Between the Pages
Age 30+… A Lifetime of Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

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2 thoughts on “The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean (14 October — 18 October)

  1. raidergirl3 says:

    I just got this from the library. Yikes.
    Sometimes a negative review makes me want to try a book even more. I wonder if I'll agree with the criticism, and then if I do, I know early that I don't have to finish it. On the other hand, those things may not bother me, and then I can finish the book. Thanks for doing the prep work on this one for me:)

  2. Alison says:

    I know how you feel! If I'm really excited about a book, a negative review will make me more interested in it, though if I'm on the fence it might keep me from reading it. It all depends on how many books are on my pile at the moment. 🙂

    I don't know too many people that have read this book (I think I'm the first in my club to finish it), but I have read some positive reviews (the first link is one). I will definitely say that if you don't like the book by the time you're 50 or 100 pages in, you shouldn't finish it because it's just more of the same. Conversely, of course, if you do like it that far in, I am sure you will enjoy the rest of the book!

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