Reviews for Madonnas of Leningrad

Booklist Reviews 2006 January #1
/*Starred Review*/ Her granddaughter's wedding should be a time of happiness for Marina Buriakov. But the Russian emigre's descent into Alzheimer's has her and her family experiencing more anxiety than joy. As the details of her present-day life slip mysteriously away, Marina's recollections of her early years as a docent at the State Hermitage Museum become increasingly vivid. When Leningrad came under siege at the beginning of World War II, museum workers--whose families were provided shelter in the building's basement--stowed away countless treasures, leaving the painting's frames in place as a hopeful symbol of their ultimate return. Amid the chaos, Marina found solace in the creation of a "memory palace," in which she envisioned the brushstroke of every painting and each statue's line and curve. Gracefully shifting between the Soviet Union and the contemporary Pacific Northwest, first-time novelist Dean renders a poignant tale about the power of memory. Dean eloquently describes the works of Rembrandt, Rubens, and Raphael, but she is at her best illuminating aging Marina's precarious state of mind: "It is like disappearing for a few moments at a time, like a switch being turned off," she writes. "A short while later, the switch mysteriously flips again." ((Reviewed January 1 & 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2005 December #2
As Alzheimer's slowly erases Marina's world, her past in wartime Leningrad begins to again take form around her.In 1941, as Hitler besieged and bombed Leningrad, Marina was one of hundreds of workers in the Hermitage dedicated to preserving its vast art collection from destruction. Day and night, she and her colleagues dismantle frames, move furniture, pack and ship objects. Most are women and many are old, and as the bombing becomes more intense, they all move with their families to the basement of the museum. A winter of legendary ferocity descends; the food stores of the city are destroyed; there is no sign of the blockade lifting. People eat pine needles, bark, and finally their own pets. To cling to her sense of the value of life, young Marina begins to assemble a mental version of the Hermitage, committing the paintings, and their placement, to memory. Sixty years later, this "memory palace" will be all that is left in Marina's memory, a filter through which she sees a world she no longer understands as a series of beautiful objects. In her debut, Dean has created a respectful and fascinating image of Alzheimer's. The story of the older Marina-mustering her failing powers in a war for dignity, struggling to make reality without recollection-makes the war sequences seem almost hackneyed in comparison. And when Dean falters, it is by pushing the emotive war material into the territory of hysteria. A thoughtful tragedy that morphs into a tear-jerker in the third act. Copyright Kirkus 2005 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2005 November #2
During the Siege of Leningrad, staff at the Hermitage removed the paintings for safekeeping but symbolically left up the frames, and the elderly Marina now recalls vividly reimagining the missing works. A much-touted debut; with a West Coast tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews 2006 February #2

As a young woman, Marina became a docent, guiding Soviet citizens through the treasures of the Hermitage Museum. Through the 900-day siege of Leningrad beginning in 1941, her knack for describing in great detail the images of the works of Italian Renaissance painter Titian and Flemish Baroque painter Rubens helped her survive when thousands of others died. Later, she and her husband fled westward and settled in the United States. As this first novel by Dean, a Seattle college teacher, opens, Marina is living in the tattered shreds of her memory. Her elusive grasp of the present and her meticulous recollections of a long-suppressed past are in delicate opposition. Memory, once her greatest ally, is now her betrayer. Like her adoring museum audiences 60 years earlier, readers will absorb Marina's glorious, lush accounts of classical beauties as she traces them in her mind. Dean eloquently depicts the ravages of Alzheimer's disease and convincingly describes the inner world of the afflicted. Spare, elegant language, taut emotion, and the crystal-clear ring of truth secure for this debut work a spot on library shelves everywhere. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/05.]--Barbara Conaty, Moscow, Russia

[Page 106]. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2005 November #3

Russian emigré Marina Buriakov, 82, is preparing for her granddaughter's wedding near Seattle while fighting a losing battle against Alzheimer's. Stuggling to remember whom Katie is marrying (and indeed that there is to be a marriage at all), Marina does remember her youth as a Hermitage Museum docent as the siege of Leningrad began; it is into these memories that she disappears. After frantic packing, the Hermitage's collection is transported to a safe hiding place until the end of the war. The museum staff and their families remain, wintering (all 2,000 of them) in the Hermitage basement to avoid bombs and marauding soldiers. Marina, using the technique of a fellow docent, memorizes favorite Hermitage works; these memories, beautifully interspersed, are especially vibrant. Dean, making her debut, weaves Marina's past and present together effortlessly. The dialogue around Marina's forgetfulness is extremely well done, and the Hermitage material has depth. Although none of the characters emerges particularly vividly (Marina included), memory, the hopes one pins on it and the letting go one must do around it all take on real poignancy, giving the story a satisfying fullness. (On sale Mar. 14)

[Page 24]. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

VOYA Reviews 2006 July
The story of Marina is told in flawless prose through alternating chapters that describe her life as a museum guide at Leningrad's Hermitage during World War II, and as an elderly Seattle woman who is losing her memory to Alzheimer's. The two periods are connected seamlessly by themes of memory, love, beauty, sacrifice, and hope. In 1941, Hermitage workers are packing art to be shipped to the interior for safekeeping. Canvases are removed while their frames remain on the walls. Marina begins keeping a "Memory Palace"-detailed mental pictures of the art. The paintings parallel life in their depictions of war, young lovers parting, and food. When the German Army blockades Leningrad, workers and their families move into the cavernous Hermitage basement, and they are soon dying from cold and starvation. When Marina loses her will to live, she discovers new life stirring within her-the result of a tryst with a soldier, Dmitri, her future husband. Her pregnancy and Memory Palace save her. Marina's dementia becomes obvious as she and Dmitri travel to an island to attend the wedding of their son Andrei's daughter. Late at night Marina wanders off. As rescue teams search, she somehow rediscovers her Memory Palace, and again, art saves her Exquisitely written, this unforgettable story teaches readers about history and humanity, about terrifying losses, and about redeeming love and hope. Older teens with relatives experiencing dementia illnesses will relate to the Seattle chapters, but the primary connection will be to the young Marina as she experiences her first love, dedication to work and art, and her survival against all odds. Teens who enjoy good literature will enjoy this book.-Florence H. Munat 5Q 3P S A/YA Copyright 2006 Voya Reviews.