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The Madonnas of Leningrad

A Novel

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About the Book

“An extraordinary debut, a deeply lovely novel that evokes with uncommon deftness the terrible, heartbreaking beauty that is life in wartime. Like the glorious ghosts of the paintings in the Hermitage that lie at the heart of the story, Dean’s exquisite prose shimmers with a haunting glow, illuminating us to the notion that art itself is perhaps our most necessary nourishment. A superbly graceful novel.”  — Chang-Rae Lee, New York Times Bestselling author of Aloft and Native Speaker

Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.

Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

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Critical Praise

“An unforgettable story of love, survival and the power of imagination in the most tragic circumstances. Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share.” —Isabel Allende, New York Times bestselling author of ZORRO

“[A] heartfelt debut…[that] switches deftly between the siege and the present…[it is] admirably humane in its determination to restore the dignity Alzheimer’s strips away. What’s more, it largely avoids the sentimentality that mars so much writing about the old and infirm.” —New York Times Book Review

“Dean writes with passion and compelling drama about a grotesque chapter of World War II.” —People

“Rare is the novel that creates that blissful forgot-you-were-reading experience. This sort of transcendence is rarer still when the novel in question is an author’s debut, but that is precisely what Debra Dean has achieved with her image-rich book, The Madonnas of Leningrad.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“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.” —Library Journal

“A thoughtful tragedy that morphs into a tear-jerker in the third act.” —Kirkus Reviews

“An extraordinary debut. . . . Like the glorious ghosts of the paintings in the Hermitage that lie at the heart of the story, Dean’s exquisite prose shimmers with a haunting glow, illuminating us to the notion that art itself is perhaps our most necessary nourishment. A superbly graceful novel.” —Chang-Rae Lee, New York Times Bestselling author of Aloft and Native Speaker

“[A] poetic novel.” —San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

“Dean merges past and present in prose that shines like the gilt frames in the hermitage.... this novel of memory and forgetting glows with love and hope.” —BookPage

“[A] heartfelt debut.” —New York Times Book Review

“Elegant and poetic, the rare kind of book that you want to keep but you have to share.” —Isabel Allende, New York Times bestselling author of ZORRO

“Spare, elegant language [and] taut emotion...secure for this debut work a spot on library shelves everywhere.” —Library Journal

“Exquisitely crafted and deeply satisfying.” —Oakland Tribune

“[A] remarkable first novel about the consolation of memory.” —NPR Nancy Pearl Book Review

The most-recommended book of 2006 —Salt Lake City Tribune

“…this is a novel that dares to be beautiful - and fully succeeds.” —Daily Mail (London)

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780060825317
  • ISBN 10: 0060825316
  • Imprint: Harper Perennial
  • On Sale: 02/20/2007
  • Pages: 256
  • List Price: 18.50 CAD
  • BISAC1: FICTION / Literary
  • BISAC2: FICTION / War & Military
  • BISAC3: FICTION / Historical

The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

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